"Prescription Pot"

by Jan Baughman

Book Review

October 6, 2003


George McMahon & Christopher Largen, Prescription Pot, New Horizon Press, 2003, ISBN 0-88282-240-3, paperback, 200 pages.

The story of George McMahon's life-long battle with a rare disease, Nail Patella Syndrome; the associated pain, surgeries and organ disorders, is characterized by his will to survive, thrive and help others find relief from suffering despite all the forces working against the use of medical marijuana.

In 1976, the Food and Drug Administration opened a compassionate Investigational New Drug program for government-supplied medical marijuana for a glaucoma patient. Over the years the program was expanded to patients with diseases such as AIDS and spinal cord injuries, but was closed in 1992 under the Bush I administration. At the time of publication George McMahon was one of only six patients still receiving government-grown medical marijuana.

McMahon's story illustrates the hypocrisy of a health care system and society which accepts -- and promotes -- the liberal use of psychotropic, hypnotic and narcotic drugs with serious short- and long-term side effects, while criminalizing medical marijuana, and refusing to formally study in clinical trials its potential health benefits or risks.

Christopher Largen co-authored this book after a year-long series of taped interviews, and the book reads as a transcript rather than a coherent story, often with snippets of conversations and ancillary details that add little to its message. There are contradictions which at times make it difficult to empathize with McMahon's perspective. For example, in one passage he describes a birthday celebration organized by friends, including a limousine tour, a dinner and a night of gambling at an Indian casino. "After waiting two full hours to be served, we found the food was really terrible. It was so bad, I fell ill after I ate. I got up and left the table in disgust." . . . . "We were more than ready to leave, but my buddies were winning big and wanted to stay a while longer." McMahon returned to the limousine and smoked a joint to relieve his pain, and after a call by casino security the county sheriff arrived, challenged his legal prescription, and took him to the police station. McMahon's legal entitlement to medical marijuana was soon confirmed, but "[a] beautiful birthday evening was ruined by one overzealous security guards' insatiable desire to give somebody trouble."

Such contradictions and stylistic deficiencies detract from McMahon's story, though Prescription Pot does provide insight to the lives of patients with serious illnesses who are seeking relief and benefiting from medical marijuana.

In 1997 the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy enlisted the Institute of Medicine to conduct a thorough scientific review of information on the potential benefits and health risks of medical marijuana. Their report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, acknowledged the potential therapeutic benefit for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation, and recommended clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of marijuana for medical uses, though they expressed concern for the harmful effects of smoking marijuana and proposed research into alternative delivery systems of the THC, its primary active ingredient. Additional reading on the topic includes Why Marijuana Should be Legal, by Ed Rosenthal and Steve Kubby, and Drug War Heresies, by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter.

The political wrangling over the legalization of medical marijuana continues in State and Federal courts, with progress and setbacks at every turn of the corner.

George McMahon & Christopher Largen, Prescription Pot, New Horizon Press, 2003, ISBN 0-88282-240-3, paperback, 200 pages. Availabe through BookSense.com or Amazon.com.

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Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base
Janet E. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A. Benson, Jr., Editors
Institute of Medicine
The National Academies Press
ISBN: 0309071550

Why Marijuana Should be Legal
Ed Rosenthal and Steve Kubby
Thunder's Mouth Press, March 2003
ISBN: 1560254815

Drug War Heresies - Learning From Other Vices, Times & Places
Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter
Cambridge University Press, August 2001
ISBN: 052179997X

Book reviews on Swans


Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).

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Published October 6, 2003
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