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Dying to Get High

Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine

Wendy Chapkis
Richard J. Webb
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Dying to Get High
    Book Description:

    Dying to Get High with Susie Bright on Boing Boing!Warring Wines; You Want to Fight?; Nurse Mary Jane in Santa CruzHigh Times interviews the authorsAlternet excerpt of the book ("How Pot Became Demonized")Discussion from the Santa Cruz MetroMarijuana as medicine has been a politically charged topic in this country for more than three decades. Despite overwhelming public support and growing scientific evidence of its therapeutic effects (relief of the nausea caused by chemotherapy for cancer and AIDS, control over seizures or spasticity caused by epilepsy or MS, and relief from chronic and acute pain, to name a few), the drug remains illegal under federal law.In Dying to Get High, noted sociologist Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb investigate one community of seriously-ill patients fighting the federal government for the right to use physician-recommended marijuana. Based in Santa Cruz, California, the Wo/Mens Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) is a unique patient-caregiver cooperative providing marijuana free of charge to mostly terminally ill members. For a brief period in 2004, it even operated the only legal non-governmental medical marijuana garden in the country, protected by the federal courts against the DEA. Using as their stage this fascinating profile of one remarkable organization, Chapkis and Webb tackle the broader, complex history of medical marijuana in America. Through compelling interviews with patients, public officials, law enforcement officers and physicians, Chapkis and Webb ask what distinguishes a legitimate patient from an illegitimate pothead, good drugs from bad, medicinal effects from just getting high. Dying to Get High combines abstract argument and the messier terrain of how people actually live, suffer and die, and offers a moving account of what is at stake in ongoing debates over the legalization of medical marijuana.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9009-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    People always want to know whether I’ve actually done the things I write about. It was a popular question when I was writing about prostitution1 and is undiminished now that I’m doing research on drugs. I’ve considered taking the path laid out by Dr. Charles Grob, a physician and longtime researcher on the medical applications of psychoactive drugs, and defer an answer; Grob observes, “I’m damned if I have [tried drugs] and I’m damned if I haven’t. If I have, then my perspective would be discounted due to my own personal bias, and if I haven’t, it would be discounted...

  5. 1 Shamans and Snake Oil Salesmen
    (pp. 13-34)

    For many modern critics, the concept of “medical marijuana” is a contradiction in terms. Medicine is standardized, synthetic, and pure; marijuana involves the unrefi ned and promiscuous coupling of more than four hundred components rooted in the dirt. Medicine — in its most powerful and privileged forms — rests in the hands of men,¹ while the most potent form of marijuana is found in the female flowering plant. Medicine engages in heroic battles against death. Marijuana claims only to enhance the quality of life. Medicine presents itself as an objective science safeguarded by the ritual of the double-blind, randomized clinical trial.² The...

  6. A Prescription for Marijuana Interview with Dr. Arnold Leff, MD, HIV and Palliative Care Specialist, Clinical Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine
    (pp. 35-38)
    Arnold Leff

    I’ve had a long history of being involved in drug issues; one of my interests has always been addictionology, if you will. During the Vietnam era, after I came out of the service, I became the medical director of the Cincinnati Free Clinic. At the same time, I was also the drug czar for the city of Cincinnati. So there I was, free clinic doc and the city drug czar. It was a nice combination, actually.

    They didn’t pay me to do the free clinic, but the health department did pay me to start talking about drug abuse in the...

  7. 2 Set and Setting
    (pp. 39-59)

    On March 24, 1973, Valerie Leveroni and Barbara Raymond, students at the University of Nevada, were returning to Reno after spending the day at a hot spring near Pyramid Lake. As they drove south along Highway 395, Barbara, who was at the wheel of Valerie’s Volkswagen, suddenly noticed a small plane heading toward the car, fairly high up but clearly descending toward the highway. Thinking that the pilot might be in trouble, Valerie suggested that they pull off the road in case he was intending to make an emergency landing on the highway. The plane continued to descend as the...

  8. Nobody Enforces Every Single Law Interview with Mardi Wormhoudt, County Supervisor and Former Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz
    (pp. 60-63)
    Mardi Wormhoudt

    It is of great interest to me that even in the conservative parts of this county, where you generally do not find liberalism on social issues, even there, the Santa Cruz medical marijuana initiative passed [in 1992]. A lot of the people who worked on the local measure went on to do the state initiative [Proposition 215]. In general, things have gone fairly smoothly here around this issue. We actually have a county sheriff who has been quite willing to work with medical marijuana advocates, who wants to find a way to honor the spirit of the ordinance. He walks...

  9. 3 The Greening of Modern Medicine
    (pp. 64-83)

    Throughout the late 1990s and the early years of the twenty-first century, the U.S. Supreme Court consistently ruled in support of federal authority over the cultivation and possession of marijuana even for medical use. The justices often appeared sympathetic to the plight of patients, but the majority refused to challenge federal power in this area. The prevailing view appeared to be, as Justice Stephen Breyer suggested, that patients would be better served by workingwiththe federal government rather thanagainstit. Going through the Federal Drug Administration to get marijuana formally approved as a medicine, Breyer argued, would be...

  10. These People Aren’t Potheads Interview with “Betty,” WAMM Caregiver
    (pp. 84-85)

    My mother got cancer really bad. She battled it for probably ten years, through the chemo and the operations, and it kept coming back. The last time it came back, she was so tired she just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. And she couldn’t even eat.

    I had been working as a nurses’ aide and there was a woman in the rest home who had cancer. The nurses’ aides would sneak her pot because it made her feel so much better and she was able to eat. When my mother heard that marijuana makes you hungry, she asked...

  11. 4 “Potheads Scamming the System”
    (pp. 86-108)

    Dorothy Gibbs is the sort of patient medical marijuana advocates hope voters will think of when therapeutic access to cannabis is on the ballot. At age ninety-four and confined to a bed in a Santa Cruz nursing home, this WAMM member is hardly the stereotypical “pothead” many critics believe to be hiding behind the medical marijuana movement. Cannabis, for Dorothy Gibbs, has never been anything but a medicine, a particularly effective analgesic that relieves severe pain associated with her post-polio syndrome: “I never smoked marijuana before; I had no reason to. But the relief I got was wonderful and long...

  12. Not Willing to Simply Survive Richard Webb (Caregiver) on John Paul Taylor (WAMM Patient)
    (pp. 109-114)

    John Paul Taylor hadn’t known he was HIV positive until an opportunistic infection, a life-threatening illness that doesn’t even register as a blip on the screens of people with intact immune systems, attacked his mouth and esophagus, rendering it too painful to eat or drink. He lost a third of his body weight before he finally went to the doctor and learned the truth. In order to combat the infections, John began what amounted to in-home chemotherapy. Over a period of several hours, he would sit in a chair in his living room while antifungal and antiviral medications slowly dripped...

  13. 5 Cannabis and Consciousness
    (pp. 115-135)

    The consciousness-altering properties of cannabis are generally understood by policy makers as a critical impediment to the drug’s designation as a medicine. For many, the claim that cannabis is of any therapeutic value is a “ruse” employed not for the benefit of the dying, but rather for those dying to get high.¹

    In response, many medical marijuana advocates have downplayed the drug’s popular psychoactive effects, instead choosing to emphasize the role marijuana can play in managing pain, calming chemotherapy-related nausea, enhancing appetite in patients suffering from AIDS wasting, relieving muscle spasticity associated with MS, reducing intraocular pressure for glaucoma sufferers,...

  14. Outside the Pain Interview with Fred Brown, WAMM Patient
    (pp. 136-138)
    Fred Brown

    When I was a so-called hippie in the late sixties and seventies, I smoked a lot of marijuana. I went through a period where I was smoking it every day and practically off and on all day. Then it kind of got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying it and so I discontinued using it. It wasn’t like, “I’m not going to do this anymore”; it just kind of fell to the wayside because it wasn’t pleasurable. One reason for that was that I had just become a Buddhist and started meditating a lot. The type of meditation I...

  15. 6 Mother’s Milk and the Muffin Man
    (pp. 139-153)

    The most common and best-established risks of sustained marijuana use in botanical form are associated not with the plant, but with the effects of one of the most popular delivery systems: smoking. For this reason, drug prohibitionists tend to focus on the dangers of inhaling smoke as a way to avoid a discussion of the relative safety of cannabis itself. They can point to research on the effects of chronic marijuana smoking that concludes that lung function is impaired in much the same way as with heavy tobacco smoking; indeed, “Marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke are rather similar. Many of...

  16. Suddenly We Were the Outlaws Interview with “Cher,” WAMM patient
    (pp. 154-156)

    There’s no drug war. What there is, is a war over which drugs we are all going to take. In the 1950s, housewives were on Dextran because it helped you stay thin; so speed was healthy. Then, because stress wasn’t healthy, Valium was used. Remember Dow Chemical? “Better living through chemistry.” Now it’s all about antidepressants. It’s always been about which drugs people should use. Think about coffee — there was a time when coffee was considered dangerous. But once industrial society found that caffeine makes people work better, we all have “coffee breaks” built right into the workday.

    I suspect...

  17. 7 Love Grows Here
    (pp. 157-179)

    A few miles north of the city of Santa Cruz, California, a winding farm road turns off scenic Highway 1 toward the rounded hilltops and wooded canyons of the coastal mountain range. Michael Corral bounces gently around the corners in a pickup truck loaded with gardening supplies, eventually turning on to a rough dirt road that winds through redwood trees high up onto a hill with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. Near the top, he unlocks a metal gate, drives the truck through, then locks the gate securely once again. A short distance beyond the gate, Corral parks...

  18. They Just Took It Interview with George Hanamoto, WAMM Patient
    (pp. 180-182)
    George Hanamoto

    I joined WAMM a few years ago in my late sixties, after I was diagnosed with glaucoma. I met Val, put in my application and, after a couple of weeks, I got a phone call that said, “Come pick up your medicine.” And that was the beginning of probably the most significant change in my life.

    My whole outlook has completely changed in the last five years of being a WAMM member.

    I went to my very first meeting; I looked around and I’m thinking, “What did I get myself into?” I did not know a gay person in my...

  19. 8 Lessons in Endurance and Impermanence
    (pp. 183-206)

    On the morning of September 5, 2002, Gabriel Demaine, WAMM’s volunteer coordinator, wheeled her bike around the corner and into the WAMM parking lot. There she discovered three cars parked at hurried angles by the office door:

    Gabriel: I recognized the cars, but nothing about the way they were parked—or even the fact that they were there on a day when the office was closed—looked familiar. As I skidded to a stop and rushed through the open front door, I felt adrenaline shoot through me. I found a half dozen patients and caregivers systematically but frantically dismembering the...

  20. Moving Forward Interview with Mark Tracy, Santa Cruz Sheriff
    (pp. 207-210)
    Mark Tracy and Santa Cruz Sheriff

    I think polls show that, nationwide, there is sympathy around the medical marijuana issue. But that’s different than legalization. As I understand it, there is not a clear majority to legalize marijuana. Like a lot of people will tell you, it’s not your mother’s marijuana anymore. The strength is much stronger; people my age perceive it as something they did in college. Not that big a thing. But it’s a more powerful drug than it used to be. Do people go crazy, commit murders? No, probably not. But are there intoxicated people driving cars? Are there intoxicated people doing other...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 211-244)
  22. Index
    (pp. 245-256)
  23. About the Authors
    (pp. 257-257)