Cannabis was always something Mike Voss, director of sales for the Venice Cookie Company, had enjoyed—through his youth and adulthood. But it took on new and deeper meaning when crippling migraines and his subsequent discovery of a small lump on his head sent him into a scary and unexpected downward spiral.
That lump turned out to be a tumor that was blocking the blood flow in his brain and inflicting terrible pain. Mike found that smoking cannabis made the pain worse, and yet he didn’t give up on the plant. Though he quit smoking, he turned to cannabis oil and found that it eased his pain, so much so that he was no longer bedridden.
Mike eventually started a program involving taking high doses of Rick Simpson oil (RSO). To his neurosurgeon’s great surprise, the tumor shrank—so much so that they no longer needed to operate to get it out. Now, more than two years later, the tumor has significantly reduced in size, with no new abnormalities or lesions.
We sat down with Mike to learn more about his incredible journey back to health. It’s one that he says he’s still working on, and involves a holistic approach that includes eating better, spending time with his family, doing what he loves—Mike got into the cannabis industry following his wake-up call—and continuing his RSO regimen every year.
Let’s walk through your background and where you were two years ago. What was going on then when you first started feeling unwell?
Mike Voss: It's crazy. I have doctors who’ve told me that I kind of paid attention to myself more so than the average person. So, I was doing a lot of work in the logistics industry, and my job required my full concentration.
My brain was constantly running, thinking about ideas, of new things. And so I needed that to function. And I was also in front of a computer screen—three screens in front of me. A lot of movement, a lot of brain power. I required 100% of my brain every single day.
I started experiencing these small headaches in the afternoon. I was not healthy at all. I was overweight. I’m still overweight, but I'm trying to overcome that now. So I thought these headaches were a result of me just being unhealthy and not taking care of myself.
And you were young at the time, and are still young now, aren’t you?
MV: Yup. I'm 36 now, so I would've been 34 years old in September 2016. And yes, I'm relatively young, but at the same time I knew I'm not at my healthiest, so like maybe these headaches are because of that.
I started drinking more water. I paid attention to what I was eating, but really didn't change much in terms of diet. And things started to seem to gradually get worse. I was getting fatigued really easily. I live in a two-story home and walking up a flight of stairs was fatiguing.
I would say this was over the course of about three weeks. I'm realizing that I'm starting to get headaches. I’m realizing that I’m getting a little bit fatigued while I'm walking up a flight of stairs. And then the week before I saw my doctor, I was getting a migraine every afternoon. I would get these migraines where I'd just shut down.
And can you describe these migraines? What were they like? How did they come on, and what did you do?
MV: Yeah, absolutely. They were behind my eyes, a very intense headache that I've never experienced before. Light really affected my mood. Smells affected me; sounds—even me talking loudly intensified the pain behind my eyes. And it was painful—like there was something in my brain trying to pull it out.
And the only thing that really seemed to help was resting, getting to a dark, quiet room by myself where I didn't have to talk to anybody or deal with outside life. Sounds pretty depressing, but that was how I felt for the week before I got myself to see a doctor. I even felt that way a couple of weeks after seeing the doctor.
So, I’d been around cannabis for a long time. I consumed it most of my life. But during that time, I stopped consuming cannabis altogether. I stopped smoking. Smoking cannabis made my headaches even worse. It made my body feel awful, so I gave it up.
Tell us about when you discovered the tumor on your head. What did the doctors advise you to do?
MV: The next thing that scared the living hell out of me that got me to go see a doctor was I felt a bump protruding from the top of my skull. I remember sitting in bed and feeling the top of my head and thinking to myself, ‘What the hell is going on?’
I have a really close friend who’s a nurse. And I texted her, ‘Hey, so, do I have any nodes on the top of my head that, if I get sick, they’re like lymph nodes and protrude?’ And she said, ‘No. There’s nothing that should be protruding from your skull.’
So I went to make an appointment with my primary care doctor. He couldn't see me for a couple of weeks, and I knew that was unacceptable. So I went to urgent care. The urgent care doc said the first thing that he wanted to do was get an image of my head and see what was going on up there.
So, I went in to get an MRI. I got a phone call from urgent care that night. They said, ‘We need to talk to you. Come on in.’ And my wife was putting my son Vinny down, and I said, ‘I have to go.’ She had a very worried look on her face and said, ‘I want to go with you.’ I said, ‘No. Deal with Vinny. I'll be back.’
The doctor told me there was a mass growing on top of my head about the size of pea.
The urgent care doctor didn't give me a lot of information beyond that and said, ‘I need you to seek help.’ I grew up with Dr. Perry Solomon (HelloMD’s Chief Medical Officer) and his family in the same community. One of his colleagues, Dr. Gracia—his son John and I are very good friends. Dr. Gracia is a Stanford doctor. So, I called up John and said, ‘Hey man, I need you to call your dad. I need advice right now.’
I’d called up UC Davis; they told me that it was going to take a month or two for me to get in there since I wasn’t a patient. So, John called up his dad, and they called me back and said, ‘Mike, if you want to get seen right away, go to the ER.’
So I went to the UC Davis ER, and I spent about 12 hours there. I was put through three different brain scans, and they fully assessed me with the neurological team. They decided that I wasn’t an emergency candidate. But at the same time, I needed to be seen by their clinic right away.
The next week, I was seen by a neurological clinic. And I spoke with the neurosurgeon who looked at all of the images. He told me, ‘This tumor isn’t going to shrink. I have no idea if it's cancerous. I will have no idea what type of tumor it is until we biopsy it, and that means I need to take it out of your head.’
He said, ‘We don’t have to do the surgery right now.’ But I was having these migraines. And I could barely get out of bed. My wife drove me to the appointment; I couldn’t even drive anymore. And so he said, ‘OK, so surgery needs to be done, since you’re not mobile and can't live a normal life right now.’
The pea-sized tumor wasn’t attached to my brain. It was lodged between my brain and my skull. It was sitting on top of the main vein, and that was what was causing my fatigue—there wasn’t a lot of blood flow.
And so he said, ‘Mike, go home and relax. Let's schedule surgery for January.’ When I saw him, it was at the end of September, maybe early October. And so I did that.
I wasn’t feeling well. I saw a neurologist as well as the neurosurgeon. The neurologist prescribed me medication—long-term as well as short-term medications to try to get rid of my daily migraines.
Eventually, the medication worked, but in the short term, I was experiencing daily migraines and fatigue, and was spending all day long in my bed. I put up a blanket so I could block out all of the light.
I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t looking at my phone. I wasn’t on the computer. I wasn’t watching TV. I wasn't having conversations with my wife.
How did you come to consider consuming cannabis for your condition? You’d said that smoking cannabis made your migraines worse. How did you learn that another form of cannabis could potentially help you?
MV: I had some chocolate, which were a one-to-one THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to CBD (cannabidiol) ratio. I took a couple, and they made me feel better. And that's when I had the light bulb in my head to contact my friend Jessica who cultivates cannabis in the Santa Cruz mountains. She and her husband also produce an oil, not an RSO (Rick Simpson oil), but an extract.
I told her what was going on. My sister-in-law lives in Santa Cruz, and they hooked up. The very next day, I started consuming that oil with the push from Jessica, telling me about the benefits.
The oil had a high-CBD content. It was an ACDC-specific oil. She told me what her brother had just been through: Her brother had just overcome a form of cancer. He was using the oil during his treatment, and she said that it made him feel a whole lot better.
And so I said, ‘Sure. Let's give it a shot. I have nothing to lose.’
Can you describe what level of dosing you were taking of this high-CBD cannabis oil to treat your migraines while you were waiting for the surgery to take place on your tumor? Also, did you use a dropper? How did you ingest it?
MV: It was a guesstimate. I had a syringe that I’d use to fill gel capsules. And I think the first amount that I took was about four veggie capsules of the cannabis oil. I'm sorry. I wish I knew what the percentages, what the dosing was, but I have no idea.
Mike started taking large amounts of ACDC cannabis oil and found that it significantly eased his migraines.
You just knew that you were taking a lot of the high-CBD cannabis oil every day.
MV: Yeah. I was taking a large quantity. Absolutely. So the very first time I took this medicine, I'd say about a half hour to 45 minutes after ingesting it, I was sitting up in bed; I was having a conversation with my wife. Sandra and I weren’t having conversations up to this point.
She had the TV on in the room at a very low volume, and I actually got out of bed to look at the TV to see what was going on. I was amazed by what was happening. So I decided that I would continue consuming cannabis. Why would I give that up? It made me feel better. Jessica had provided me with probably 30–32 ounces of oil, which lasted quite a while.
And so when was it that you started to think cannabis may help combat the tumor, beyond helping ease the pain from your migraines?
MV: While I was at home and getting better and starting to read again, I was able to read about cannabis and how it has the possibility to kill cancerous cell. I read people's biographies online—much like my story now—about how they simply ingested cannabis and how they had either shrunken or completely dissolved tumors.
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I didn't want to go through surgery. That's brain surgery; that’s cutting my head open. So, I reached out to Debby Goldsberry, who’s the CEO of Magnolia Wellness. I’d met her when I was working at her dispensary at Berkeley Patients Group. She was the big honcho in charge, and I was just a budtender. I'd only met her a couple of times. She probably didn't even know my name.
But I shared my story with her. I told her that I’d heard there had been effects of shrinking tumors with the use of cannabis extracts. And I said, ‘I also know by working at Berkeley Patients Group that there are compassionate programs at some of these dispensary. And I'm curious, do you have a compassionate program?’
She wrote back in 10 minutes and said, ‘Mike, so happy you reached out. We will absolutely provide you with your first six months of RSO. I have this manufacturer, and this is what they do. They provide this for people like yourself.’
I was very grateful. I started consuming RSO very slowly. RSO isn’t something to mess around with. It will activate in your system right away. And it gets you very, very high to a point where the high isn’t comfortable.
Can you describe how you titrated, how you started taking RSO and increased your dosage over time?
MV: Absolutely. So RSO is a very thick oil. And the way I received it was in a syringe. And I was able to dose out of that syringe a tenth at a time. A tenth of a gram is the size of a half of a rice kernel. This is what I’d put into a veggie cap and take at night. I did that for one week. I did one-tenth of a gram, and then I went to two-tenths for the next week and then to three-tenths the week after that.
So, very slowly building up week after week. This is very important, because I’d actually stopped using RSO for a bit, and I thought, ‘This is no problem. I've done this before.’ So, I consumed 500 mg of RSO, and it made me extremely dizzy the next day. I had ingested way too much and didn’t properly titrate the RSO into my system.
I just want to give that warning so that if anyone considers using RSO, start slow. Eventually, I titrated up to 1 gram. At one point, I was consuming a gram and a half to 2 grams of RSO on some evenings.
Some of the RSO that was given to me was a one-to-one CBD-to-THC ratio. Although I was told that THC is what’s important in killing cancerous, tumorous cells. But the CBD RSO enabled me to consume a little bit extra THC.
That makes sense. Because CBD helps mitigate the effects of THC, allowing you to consume more THC in the RSO oil.
MV: Yep. Not only that, but CBD in high doses makes your body feel really good. It gave me the best sleep ever.
So I was consuming the RSO at very high doses, and December rolled around. I was feeling a whole lot better, and it was time for me to enjoy being with my son.
I was fearing that I was going to die, and now I was feeling fine. So I pulled him out of daycare. And he and I spent every day with each other. It was really awesome to be able to bond with him. And the good result is I didn't die in the end.
I contacted my doctor, and we decided to do some pre-op things. They wanted me to go in for an imaging to check out the tumor, check out exactly where it was for when they performed surgery.
I received a call five days later from the doctor saying, ‘Your tumor has shrunk. It's not dissolved, but it has shrunk significantly. Please come in, so we can talk.’
The doctor showed me the images. The tumor had rolled off the main vein, and there was a significant size reduction. And he said, ‘I'm not really sure what happened. I've never seen this before.’
At the time, I told him I was ingesting cannabis. I could tell that was a conversation he didn’t want to have with me. So I didn’t. I understood that this was an alternative medicine that he had no control over, but this was what I doing.
So that was January. The doctor wanted me to come back for a brain scan six months later. I went back in May. So in January, I ended my short-term disability, because I was really excited to go back to work.
By that point, you were feeling good? You were feeling well enough to go back to work?
MV: I was feeling good. I was feeling good to get back to work and get back into my normal groove. And it wasn't all that I had hoped. I wasn’t feeling so passionate about my job. Especially with such an encouraging story; I had such high hopes that it was really cannabis that was helping me along. So, I decided to get into the field. That's what led me to work for the Venice Cookie Company (VCC).
How did you connect with the Venice Cookie Company? Why did you choose to work for VCC vs. another cannabis company?
MV: I knew I wanted to work for a manufacturer. I eventually connected with Kenny Morrison, the founder of the Venice Cookie Company. He sits on the board of the CCMA, the California Cannabis Manufacturing Association.
Kiva, Jetty, the Venice Cookie Company are all a part of the CCMA. They have a lobbyist in Sacramento who helps get their message out to lawmakers and politicians. I really liked that. It made sense to work for someone who was equally as passionate on the activist side of cannabis.
And so I sent Kenny an email, and I received an email from him saying, ‘I'm on my way up to northern California from LA. I'm in the car all day. Do you have time to talk?’
I gave him a call, and I was on the phone with them for an hour and a half. It was a good conversation, one that led me to be employed by him. It's been a good home.
That’s great. And so tell me, since that time when you received the great news about your tumor shrinking and not needing surgery, what do you have to say about your health and your journey? Where are you now?
MV: Sure. January 2017 is when I had my brain scan, which showed a reduction in the size of the tumor. I went back for another MRI in May 2017. That imaging showed another significant reduction in the size of the tumor.
At that point, the doctor said, ‘Great, Mike. Again, I don't know what's happening here. Sure, you're consuming cannabis. I don’t want to talk about that. Why don't you come back in one year's time, and we'll take another image to see what's going on?’
A year and a couple months went by, and I took another image this last summer in 2018. I got my hopes up high that I would see a complete dissolving of the tumor. But I didn’t. It's the same exact size, in the same exact location as it was in May 2017.
But after getting over that emotional hour of being like, ‘Oh man, I thought I was going to be done,’ I'm fine with it, because it's at a point now where it doesn't take control of my daily life. It hasn’t grown any since May 2017. There are no new abnormalities. There are no new lesions.
And for the first time the neurosurgeon used the word benign. There's nothing new inside my head—just the same old tumor. And that makes me feel OK.
There's another part to this journey. I wasn’t healthy two years ago. I’m still overweight, but I’m now consuming healthy food. There’s a doctor that I've been reading. His name is Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and he’s very big into plant-based nutrition, consuming lots of vegetables and vegetable fats. He's into the research behind consuming these micronutrients, and the possibilities of killing cancer itself or at least avoiding cancer.
Meanwhile, there’s the standard American diet that we’re all consuming that consists of animal products. When you consume animal products, a special hormone is released, and that hormone is a cancer-causing hormone. That doesn’t happen when you consume vegetables.
I'm sure there are many other doctors who have many other things to say about this, but I feel there might be some truth to this. Dr. Fuhrman’s second book is about the powers of fasting and how prolonged, medically reviewed fasting is beneficial to helping us excrete toxins and possibly help heal the tumors that are inside you. So he's saying when you fast, it gives your body the ability to fight these cancerous cells.
It sounds like you’re taking a holistic approach to your health, which seems absolutely necessary in maintaining wellness.
MV: That's where I am right now. Last year was all about me figuring out what was inside my head, how to control it and get over that. This year and the next are all about me getting healthy.
And being healthy is all-encompassing. There's a lot involved that I've never taken into consideration. It’s a new lifestyle. I have a family history of heart disease. It's time for me to take control of that.
My experience of truly thinking that I was going to die has humbled me. I used to be a lot angrier type person. I didn't take much care of my health or my future. Since then, I've really taken a deep step back and realized that there's a whole lot more to life.
I think before I act or try to most of the time. I also think about other people's well-being and how their health could potentially be affecting the way they're communicating with me or the way that they're feeling.
Will you still remain on your cannabis regimen as part of your maintenance and prevention plan—keeping control over the tumor and your health overall?
MV: I was provided six months of medication, and then I was actually provided another four months of medication. Then I took a couple of months off, and I went back to it, I'd say six months ago.
I started taking RSO again, and I took it up until I left on vacation in October. And I haven't taken it since. I will start it up again. This will definitely be something that I will continue for the rest of my life.
I feel I'm at a point where I don’t have to do it all of the time. I think I can take this medicine 90 days out of each year. I know it sounds crazy, but that's what I've thought I’ll do. Because there are a lot of health benefits to ingesting cannabis. I wish there was more scientific knowledge behind what I'm saying.
I sound like a whack: ‘Yeah. I'm going to take RSO 90 days each year for the rest of my life.’ But I'm going to do it, because I'm hoping that's what will help.
You’re going to continue to do your scans, and you're going to calibrate your cannabis consumption based on the results of those scans, right? So, maybe it's not whack. It's just that you're experimenting and doing what you’ve found works for you.
MV: Correct. I'm going back for another image in July or August 2019.
So, for the 90 days out of each year, I’ll titrate up to a 1 gram dose. I’ll go back to doing a tenth of a gram a week until I get to that gram.
And obviously, this isn’t for everyone. This is what works for you, based on the results that you’ve had.
MV: Absolutely. One-hundred percent.
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.