If you’ve ever watched an episode of A&E’s Bad Ink, you might know co-host Rob Ruckus as the outspoken, tattooed, punk rocker that he is. But while he’d normally be speaking out against poor choices in body art, today he’s speaking up about something else: medical cannabis.
When Leafly stopped by Inyo Fine Cannabis in Las Vegas, Nevada, we were pleasantly surprised to see Rob’s familiar face behind the counter and hear his trademark voice offering helpful suggestions to patients. To learn more about Rob’s passion for cannabis and his path to serving Las Vegas-area patients, we sat down with the man. He shared his take on cannabis’s potential as medicine and revealed what attracted him to budtending in the first place.
Leafly: Can you give us a quick overview of your background? And how did that lead to you becoming a budtender?
Rob Ruckus: Cannabis has been a part of my life pretty much all of my life. I grew up in California and Las Vegas in the ’70s and ’80s, and it was something that was always around. You know, family members smoked when I was a kid. Growing up, cannabis was always just a part of my life. I didn’t always know that I was self-medicating, but it always worked for me.
“I spent two years doing nothing but studying terpenes and cannabinoids and different diseases.”
Even before Bad Ink, I was selling pot in front of that place [Pussykat Tattoo Parlor] when it was still a Blockbuster 30 years ago. So you know, this isn’t something I’m new to.
Right about the time I started doing Bad Ink, a friend of mine’s daughter was diagnosed with bladder cancer and was told that she wouldn’t [live to] five years old. Well, if the kid was going to go through the treatment [the doctors] wanted to give her, it would have been, you know, chemo, radiation. They’d have broken her hips, they’d have broken her ribs every year to help with her growing. She’d have never had a normal sex life. She’d have had a double colostomy. It would have been a horrible life. So the mother decided quality over quantity, and we started researching cannabis oil. That girl is now nine years old and completely cancer-free. I saw it personally work.
So you were sold?
I spent two years doing nothing but studying terpenes and cannabinoids and different diseases, but once the TV show came along, I had to stop everything. I was under a morality contract. I wasn’t allowed to advocate at all.
While I was under this contract, one of the local news reporters came to me, George Knapp. He was known for going up against the mafia, he’s known for going up against the FBI, he chases everything. He came to me and said, “I know what you did for this little girl. I know you cured this little girl of cancer. I want to put you on the news, and I want you to explain how it works and why it works and what you did.”
I had to explain to him I couldn’t do it because I was under contract. So we blurred out my face, changed my voice, I went on the air. We did this story about saving this little girl’s life, and then four days later they made it where children in the state of Nevada can get [medical marijuana authorizations]. Ha! I couldn’t say a word about that for a few years!
Once the TV show was over is when I dove in head-first and took the millions of people that I reached from being on television and explained to them that there is a different way. You don’t have to have the chemotherapy and radiation and all this poison put into you. Luckily the Nevada [medical marijuana] program kind of coincided with that, and I got in early out here. Now I see the difference every day.
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What kinds of things?
I see patients every single day that come in and weren’t supposed to still be alive, or they have epilepsy and their seizures don’t happen anymore. Or their kids have epilepsy and the kid went to school and started to have a seizure, sucked down some RSO inside of a honey stick, and the seizure stopped. People with rheumatoid arthritis, who haven’t opened their hands in 10 years, put a topical cream on their hands and those hands open up.
I’ve seen some absolute miracles with this amazing plant, and I want to use the celebrity that I did get from television to let people know that there is another way.
What was it that got you started in budtending specifically?
I kept amassing all this information. I was looking up terpenes and cannabinoids and diseases. It was because I had people coming to me. You know, like friends of mine and family members. This was before any of the dispensaries opened up. My own mother was having problems, and I put her onto the oil. Two weeks later, her bloodwork was fine and she was released from the hospital.
Before July of last year, home extraction was still OK. As of July of last year, home extraction’s now a Class C felony. If I get caught doing what I used to do, it’s the same sentence as somebody who is making meth. So basically, now all I can do is just educate people on how to do it themselves. Until something changes.
There are a few companies I’ve been talking to. Hopefully I will be producing RSO in a facility for all of the dispensaries in Nevada in the next couple months. But I have my limits, too. I can only do so much; I’m not a doctor. I’m an old punk rocker that used to be on TV for a while, who got sick of seeing his friends die and started doing his research.
When you meet people or patients for the first time, do you describe yourself as a budtender?
To be honest, I’m not even really a fan of the word “budtender.” I’m somebody who’s done his homework, and I love helping out other people. I gotta say, I get something out of it too. Because being able to see these people come back in a few weeks with smiles on their face instead of, you know, the light being out. A lot of these people are 50-, 60-, 70-year-old men and women who have just been given a horrible diagnosis. And then they go into a dispensary and they need someone to talk to.
Luckily, I’m 46 years old, I’ve been through a lot, I’ve been a musician my whole life. I’m good at talking with people. I’m good at talking with all kinds of people. So that’s what got me into going into a dispensary instead of just doing things on the side, on my own. I want to be with the people. I’m learning from them. I get to see the reactions that they’re having. Plus I learn from what they tell me, I learn more about how I can help people. It’s for other people, but I get something out of it, too.
What do you do when you’re not budtending at the dispensary? What are your hobbies and your lifestyle like?
Well, I’m still a musician. I’ve been playing music out here for over 30 years. I play everything from jazz to country to punk rock. So you know, I can be in five or six bands at a time. I’m still working with some film stuff. I’m going to be doing a documentary about, like, ‘70s proto-punk in New York. I teach people how to make oil.
When I’m home, a lot of times I’m studying. I’m online learning about crazy diseases and what terpenes work for them. And then I also write for Cannabis Vegas Magazine. Something else I’d like to do is start a cannabis show, but it’s just not the right time for it. It’s because nobody is buying sponsorships, they’re not buying commercials. The country’s not ready yet. It’s going to take a couple more years before a TV show is ready.
What is your personal relationship with cannabis?
Well, the reason I’m a patient in the first place is being an old punk rocker, like myself, a guy named Ruckus. I didn’t get that name for nothing. I’ve fallen off of buildings, jumped off stages, I’ve been in more car accidents than I can count. You know my back and my knees and my neck are just shot. So, I’d say about seven years ago I was taking literally 40 loratab-10s [prescription opioids] a day. I was completely addicted to painkillers. That was just masking all my pain.
That’s the other thing that got me into it personally — pain management and getting off of opiates. And that worked for both of them. Once I found out about this oil, I haven’t touched as much as an aspirin in the last six years. You know, my liver feels better, my kidneys, my whole well-being. My thought process is better. Everything is better since I’m off that poison.
“My whole thing is start small. I don’t want anybody to take too much and be scared off.”
Once every six months or so I’d be down on my back and not be able to get up. I’d be sliding around my house on a skateboard. I haven’t had that problem in six years. It was an immediate thing. I took that capsule, and the next morning I woke up [was] the best I’d felt in years.
When a patient is new to medical cannabis and overwhelmed by all of the nuances behind it, where do you start?
First thing I do, when somebody comes in, especially when people come in and say, “Let me have your highest THC,” that right there just tells me that somebody is uneducated. When I hear that from somebody, my first move is OK, let me show you something, and I’ll pull out a bottle and I’ll show them what myrcene is, what caryophyllene is, linalool and limonene — and explain what they are. They start getting educated right there, and getting that education is a good feeling. Like OK, this isn’t something I need to be afraid of anymore. And from there I go to, OK, have you ever smoked before? If it’s a no, then it’s like, OK, we don’t even want to get you started with [smoking] pot. We want to start you with like a tincture, so you can just do a couple drops, find your comfort level.
Every single person is different. I can’t tell somebody, “You smoke this and you’re going to feel like this.” Every person’s different. So my whole thing, especially with new people, is start small. I don’t want anybody to take too much and be scared off by this and never come back, because it’s happened to me before. I’ve had very, very good friends of mine that came down with cancer. I gave them oil capsules and it was too much for them. They’re like, “I don’t want to be that stoned ever,” and they didn’t go back to oil.
If you scare somebody away from this, you could literally kill them. Which is the way I look at it. So my thing is always, always, always start them as small as possible and then let them build up as they feel comfortable.
With your involvement at Inyo, is there one particular moment that stands out as most impactful?
My favorite story is the mother that came in with her little girl—I believe she was seven years old—with epilepsy. She still went to school because it wasn’t totally severe, but she would have, you know, three or four seizures a week. Every now and then it would happen while she’s at school. So how does she medicate while she’s at school? Of course she can’t smoke anything, she can’t take any vapor. She can’t take a brownies or cookies, because what if one of the other kids takes it? We’ve got a big problem.
What I suggested to these people was honey sticks, which is just a straw full of honey that has Rick Simpson Oil in it. The kid could literally just bite the end of it and suck that honey stick down. And what I had the mother do was go get, like, big red straws and put the honey stick inside of that so she had to go through two straws in order to get to her medicine. Some kid isn’t going to look at her red straw with two crimped ends and think, “Ooh, that’s delicious! I need to eat that!”
So the kid would take it to school with her. I think it was her fifth day after [her mother] bought the stuff, she started having a seizure and sucked down that honey and oil real quick — and the seizure didn’t happen. None of the kids made fun of her for having a seizure. Which, you know, I remember when I went to school and kids, they’d laugh. Which didn’t happen to this little girl. None of the teachers knew she was medicating, so she didn’t get any shit from them, and none of the kids knew that she was, you know, sick anymore. So her life just became so much better. The mother came in a few weeks later just crying and thanking me so much. And I’m like, it’s not me, it’s the medicine that did it. Things like that just melt your heart. I go home and sleep with a full heart damn near every night.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a budtender?
Study, study, study, study. Start looking up your terpenes. Start looking up your cannabinoids. This isn’t just selling pot to somebody. Sometimes people’s lives are in your hands, so if somebody comes in and they say they have a disease and you don’t know what will help that disease, or even the basis of that disease, you could literally kill somebody. So take it very seriously and do your research before you ever get a job like this.
Any final thoughts on budtending, cannabis use in general, or any other elements of your life?
This is still a whole new frontier for everybody and we’re still learning new things every single day. There are new barriers being broken, and things being learned, and new terpenes being found. New ways of consuming. You know, it’s an amazing time to be alive, because I sure never would have expected this.
And get out there and vote out the bastards who are against us!
Lead Image: Rachel Bellinsky