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High Folks: Cancer, The Ghost of Nick D’Amelio’s Past

Nick D’Amelio’s passion for cannabis is how he pays tribute to the loved ones he’s lost to cancer.

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High Folks: Cancer, The Ghost of Nick Amelio’s Past
Courtesy of Nick D’Amelio

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our newest bi-weekly column, High Folks: the cannabis-infused version of Humans of New York, in which we take an intimate look at people’s relationships with our most beloved plant. The connection between humans and cannabis is primal, dynamic, and profound. But it’s something that’s increasingly overlooked in the new age of weed. So in an effort to combat the superficiality of cannabis in the social media-age, High Times is proud to present to you a collection of work that highlights one of life’s most beautiful gifts: connection.

On the back of a black 2005 Chevy Tahoe z71, the statement “fuck cancer” is disruptive and haunting. The words also follow you up and down Nick D’Amelio’s Instagram feed like an unwanted ghost. When we ask the 24-year-old from Waldwick, New Jersey, what “fuck cancer” means to him, he begins by telling us the story of how his relationship with cannabis began.

“On my 18 birthday, I wasn’t aware that my stepfather was sick but it seems that I smoked the joint that started it all,” D’Amelio tells High Times.

In August 2013, Nick’s life became a wildfire of confusion. His stepfather, Peter Allen, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. At the time of the diagnosis, D’Amelio’s relationship with cannabis was just blossoming.

“My friend said ‘Let’s get high!’ At the time I didn’t smoke, but I told him if he could roll a joint, then I would smoke it,” says D’Amelio, reminiscing on his 18th birthday. “He ended up YouTubing it, and I ended up having to smoke the joint because he rolled one.”

Shortly after his birthday, D’Amelio’s mother Fran Benintende, took his stepfather to the hospital for Ulcerative Colitis. That’s when they found out about Allen’s cancer.

“It felt like someone had punched us in the face when [Allen] was diagnosed,” Benintende tells High Times in a phone interview. She says it felt like her husband had been handed a death sentence.

Allen was the athletic-type, weighing in at 200 pounds and 6 feet tall. “It was heartbreaking watching him become so weak.”

D’Amelio was dazed when his stepfather was diagnosed. “I really didn’t understand how quickly this was going to change our lives,” he says. “I honestly started to feel helpless. I’m a ‘fix it’ kind of guy, and I felt like there was nothing I could do.”

Benintende married Allen when her son was around 6-years-old. “They had a very close relationship,” she says. “It was very open and honest.”

The closeness of their relationship allowed  D’Amelio and Allen to form a bond around cannabis. “[Allen] was smoking weed when his colitis was acting up and it was helping him a lot,” says  D’Amelio. “We started smoking together as he got sicker. And it really started to help him. The only time he ate and the only time he wasn’t in a shit-ton of pain was when he smoked.”

“Cannabis to me is the answer to everything,” D’Amelio says, “or almost everything.”

Allen died on Aug. 8, 2013. Then, about a year and a half later in November of 2014, D’Amelio’s cousin, Zach Koop, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. “I started to dive deeper into learning about cannabis, CBD, and oils,” says D’Amelio. “I was trying to encourage my family to try it, but no one would really listen.”

Koop went into remission, but like many who battle cancer, it came back with vengeance a year-and-a-half later. Koop died on May 3, 2016. Towards the end of his cousin’s life, however, the family began listening to the information D’Amelio was providing. They allowed Koop to take CBD oil.

“The CBD oil was the only thing that encouraged him to eat and have an almost normal conversation,” D’Amelio says. “In my eyes, the last few weeks of his life weren’t so miserable for him because of the CBD. My aunt told me that the CBD really did do something. After that, I promised myself that cannabis can do amazing things.”

After the death of his cousin, D’Amelio was motivated to learn all he could about cannabis. He began to do his own research and eventually, he enrolled at the New England Grassroots Institute, now The Leaf Collaborative, where he learned the history and science of cannabis as well as extraction science, dosing, and how to perform these tasks in a professional manner. This led him to become a Medical Marijuana Technician in upstate New Jersey.

“Cannabis to me is the answer to everything,” D’Amelio says, “or almost everything.”

Dr. Donald I. Abrams, a medical oncologist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General who has an integrative oncologist practice at the University of California San Francisco and has been studying cannabis since 1997, suggests that cancer patients should use cannabis (if interested) along with conventional cancer care.

“Inhalation is fine, [but] highly concentrated oils of THC or CBD could interfere with the breakdown on the conventional cancer therapy,” Abrams tells High Times. “Medicine is not cookie cutter. Each patient should be evaluated and treated individually per their needs. Blanket statements are discouraged. That being said, for many patients, I suggest using cannabis for symptom management when they begin their conventional cancer care.”

Though supportive of using cannabis, Abrams cautions against internet advertising that says cannabis is a “cure” for cancer. He explains that pot has only been proven to kill cancer cells in a tube. These same effects haven’t been demonstrated in humans.

In Chapter 15 of The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research, Abrams outlines all of the barriers that stop medical researchers from learning more about the medical effects the plant.

“In the absence of an appropriately funded and supported cannabis research agenda, patients may be unaware of treatments, policy-makers may be hindered from developing evidence-based policies, and health care organizations and insurance providers lack a basis on which to revise their care and coverage policies,” Abrams writes in his research.

Ultimately, he says the challenges faced by medical researchers to learn more about cannabis is a public health problem.

D’Amelio’s strong belief that cannabis can cure cancer in humans allows him to remain hopeful. He says that he will continue to advocate for it by diving deeper into his own studies and providing proof to those who are curious. He cites the test tube study by Machado Rocha that used THC oil on rat brain tumors to kill cancer cells.”

“I’ve met people who were supposed to be dead,” says D’Amelio. “And when people do cure cancer with cannabis, doctors don’t wanna hear it!”

Matt Sciolaro, D’Amelio best friend of more than 12 years, says that says D’Amelio is extremely dedicated to changing the narrative around cannabis. “I’ve seen him make an impact on his own family members who’ve struggled with battling cancer. Even when the situation didn’t look good he was still there to provide insight on some ways cannabis could help them.”

Sam Collins, D’Amelio’s girlfriend, is continually amazed at how excited he gets about the plant. “He can literally talk for hours about it,” she says.

His passion for helping educate medical marijuana patients in New Jersey has trickled over onto social media and among patient groups where he gives advice to those interested in adding cannabis to their treatment plans. D’Amelio is currently looking for jobs in the cannabis industry and has plans of opening his own dispensary in New Jersey in the coming future.

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