A healthy connection between someone’s mind, body, and soul is important for Rateb Nesari, who uses cannabis to help soothe those in pain.
Nesari, who works for SLO CAL Roots Dispensary, said he started running a compassionate care program through the dispensary after his wife began suffering from mental illness, and Western medicine didn’t seem to help. By experimenting with different recipes, marijuana strains, and products, Nesari said his wife’s mental health started to improve.
Inspired by the impact cannabis had on his wife, he decided to see whether marijuana could play a role in helping those with terminal illnesses mitigate the impacts that medications such as chemotherapy can have.
“Twenty years ago, my friend’s grandma had cancer and she got down to about 80 pounds, so I decided to make Rick Simpson Oil, and that actually made her better,” he said. “After about three days, she actually was able to eat and within the first week she gained 10 pounds.”
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is an oil made from the flowers of the marijuana plant, according to WebMD.
SLO CAL Roots’ compassionate care program helps those who truly need cannabis as a medicine and can’t afford it due to high taxes that the retail marijuana industry pays in California, Nesari said. Most of his patients are those who have cancer, are in hospice, or have other terminal illnesses. They receive products for free.
“Before cannabis was legalized, we had Prop. 215, which allowed us to trade and barter medical cannabis, and it kind of got forgotten about when they legalized cannabis in 2018, so basically the medical patients were left out,” he said. “So those who donated products basically stopped donations because people didn’t want to pay taxes on those donated products, and it caused the whole medicinal market of cannabis to go into the black market.”
Over the years, Nesari said, he met the owner of Emerald Bay Extracts, a Stanford trained oncology and ICU nurse who donated their full-spectrum cannabis oil and tablets weekly.
“I wasn’t really getting a lot of products donated to me when I first started out. I only had about 10 patients there, but then I met Emerald Bay Extracts, and they helped me out with the formalities of getting the program going,” he said. “We actually had to cancel the program three or four times during the first six months because I was just running out of items.”
Nesari said that SLO CAL Roots has a separate rack in the San Luis Obispo-based dispensary that displays the companies that donate to the compassionate care program. He added that SLO residents who visit the dispensary are the ones who helped the program grow.
“The community started buying those products, and that allowed us to bring in more products and get more donations,” he said. “This allows me to make regular deliveries to my patients in need.”
The program is currently maxed out at 30 people with a pretty long waitlist, Nesari said. Although product donations have increased, it’s not enough to raise the number of patients the program can serve.
“When a patient comes into my program, I don’t just give them free weed. We sit down and go over their diagnosis, what their symptoms are, and then we find a profile that works for the patient,” he said. “This comes with food recipes, aroma therapies, and instructions. This isn’t just a free program; I try to actually help them use the medication in a way that works for them best medicinally.”
Nesari said program sign-ups are usually by word of mouth from those who visit SLO CAL Roots Dispensary.
“Most of the time it’s a family member like mom or dad who comes in and sees what I’m doing and tells me what the situation is with their loved one, and I tell them if they have a medical card to come see me,” he said. “We also keep flyers around telling the public what this program does.”
Looking to grow this program to help everyone in need, Nesari said he’s just hoping more companies will donate.
“If businesses are willing to jump on board and help my program then they are able to get a tax exempt form from me, and I accept products that are close to expiring so the dispensary doesn’t have to pay to destroy them, and I’m able to offer larger packages to patients,” he said. “My goal for this program is to get as many people off the waitlist as I can and expand it.”