Holland, Julie, M.D. (Ed.) The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis, Its Role in Medicine, Politics, Science, and Culture.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Heilig, Steve
Pub Date: 03/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Psychoactive Drugs Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISSN: 0279-1072
Issue: Date: March, 2011 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis, Its Role in Medicine, Politics, Science, and Culture (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Holland, Julie
Accession Number: 287390907
Full Text: Holland, Julie, M.D. (Ed.) The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis, Its Role in Medicine, Politics, Science, and Culture. Park Street Press, Rochester VT, 2010) 576 pages, $19.95.

The Pot Book is an apt title for this tome, as upon publication it likely becomes the single most comprehensive compilation of information for the general reader--albeit the general reader with serious interest and fortitude, and hopefully some discriminatory perspective as well.

Dr. Julie Holland is a psychiatrist and clinical professor at NYU School of Medicine, and editor of a similar compendium on MDMA titled Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. That 2001 book set a precedent for this one; both present a sweeping menu of subjects and authors, many of whom are recognized as among the very best on their topics. The contents are well organized, proceeding from an historical overview of history, botany, chemistry, law and policy, through sections on "Risks of Use and Harm Reduction," 'The Clinical Uses of Cannabis," and "Cannabis Culture." The concluding section, "Steps in the Right Direction," focuses on relatively recent developments in the Netherlands, Canada, and California, with focus on medical use policy and broader legalization efforts and prospects.

Holland begins by admitting "I didn't start out editing this book as an expert on cannabis. I felt more comfortable editing my last book, on MDMA (Ecstasy), because I had been studying its potential use in psychiatry for fifteen years prior to its publication. This time, I knew very little going in. And so, feeling a bit over my head, I amassed a group of experts on cannabis to help explain what I could not. Both books are nonprofit ventures; proceeds from sales of the books will fund clinical research on their respective drugs."

It should be noted that the overall tenor of the material here could be called "pro-pot," in that the authors are in favor of legalization, liberalization of medical use, and so forth. A contribution or two from legal or other authorities who oppose these perspectives would have added some balance, although there is fair assessment of known and potential negative medical and cognitive impacts of chronic use, driving under the influence, addiction, and legal consequences. That said, the authors here are largely persuasive, outside of a bit of paranoid fantasizing about international banking cartels conspiring to keep pot prohibition in place, an evangelistic pitch for cannabis as a key to enlightenment, and some probably overoptimistic conjecture regarding cannabis "curing" all sorts of maladies. However, almost all the authors stick to what they know and what is known, with as authoritative perspectives as the facts allow. From Lester Grinspoon's sweeping foreward to the extensive resource compendium and 50-page list of references, again, there is much here for readers ranging from neophyte to expert.

Each reader will likely have their own favored features in such a long and wide-ranging book; for me one special attraction is the series of interviews Holland has sprinkled in most of the sections. It might be that some of these are with authors who were too busy to write their own pieces--they do seem to be weighted towards the renowned, from leading researchers to "busted" comedian Tommy Chong--but the results are often very readable, and candid. Noted oncologist, professor and cannabis researcher Donald Abrams M.D., reviewing his team's efforts, reflects that "I think we put together a very nice body or research. We first showed cannabis was safe, then we showed it was effective. We then showed that it can be delivered by a nonsmoked alternative delivery system, and now we're looking for synergism with other drugs and perhaps even being able to decrease some of the side effects of opioids." But when asked by Holland about "this whole idea of politics trumping science" with respect to medical cannabis research, Abrams bluntly observes "I don't think anybody bothers to really look at the research being done or make any policy changes on the basis of it."

Regarding California's ongoing "medical marijuana" policy and distribution experiment, Holland's interview with renowned author Michael Pollan, whose writing on cannabis in his bestselling book "The Botany of Desire" is a classic work in this arena, is equally if not even more striking:

JH: So, what do you think of the California medical marijuana situation?

MP: It's a mixed bag. It's wonderful to see it normalized and regularized for a lot of people. I know many people who have their couple of plants, and it's not a big deal. It gives you a taste of what a sane drug policy might look like. On the other hand, there is incredible abuse. A great number of people are pretending to be medical marijuana growers or sellers when they're not. And they're abusing the system in a way that I think may lead to the collapse of this whole regime, and the blame will be on them. It won't be on the DEA.

JH: I totally agree. I hope that California understands the rest of the country is watching them to see how they do. This is a big experiment, and they're bushwhacking and leading the way, and I really don't want them to screw up.

MP: There's so much money in this, and the temptation is so great. I just worry that they're going to ruin this experiment, and California's failure will be used to keep it from happening anywhere else.

This exchange is very gratifying to read, said by real experts in a "pro-pot" book, if one has watched the so-called "medicalization" of cannabis be co-opted by corruption and capitalists. Will the warning be heeded, however? That remains to be seen. As Bob Dylan observed long ago, "money doesn't talk, it swears."

Again, no doubt other readers of all persuasions will find something that strikes their interests and fancies as well in this wide-ranging tome. But from this reviewer's perhaps jaded perspective, the exchange quoted above is worth the whole book.

DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2011.566505

Reviewed by Steve Heilig, M.P.H., Director of Public Health and Education, San Francisco Medical Society, San Francisco, CA.

Please address correspondence and reprint requests to Steve Heilig, M.P.H., San Francisco Medical Society, 1003A O'Reilly Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129; email: heilig@sfms.org.
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