Book Review: Pot, Inc. by Greg Campbell


This is one of my library finds.  I have to add a little bit of a disclaimer here.  I have been a nurse for 10 years.  The last four spent as a hospice nurse.  I am well aware of the benefits of cannabis, especially to patients that are struggling with pain, the side effects of chemo, or the myriad of symptoms that occur at the end of life.

So I’m not one that needs to be convinced.  What made me go out and pick up a book was this horrifically misinformed opinion posted on FB by a friend from high school:

Where the hell is this country headed??? Comparing pot to booze, seeing it as the same. What ever happened to the ‘Just say No’ campaign, why do people accept defeat so easily? Why don’t we just legalize the rest of the shit too.

Yeah.  That made my blood boil.  So instead of providing dubious information  like her husband did to support her views:

I my self have treated people who got to “high” on weed when I was working on the ambulance. Weed is just a mind altering drug that is not good in any way it affects you brain damages your lungs esphougaus and the rest of your respiratory system.

My response was to looked the shit up myself.  And the result was reading this book.  In two days.

This book isn’t written by a stoner.  The author is a journalist.  He has written books about the diamond trade.  He just happened to live at the epicenter of the “green rush” at the end of 2009 aka Colorado.  And this book was written BEFORE full legalization.  So it made sense to start here.

The author is hilarious.  He uses his own personal experiences with pot (and he is one of those who gets the full blown paranoia) to illustrate his points.  After experimenting in his early 20s, he decided it wasn’t for him.  Which adds more credibility to his stance.  His description of how he was helped by cannabis during a severe injury is enough to convince people that cannabis needs to be available in every ER. Vaporized of course to prevent damage to the lungs and “esphougaus”.

The book explains a bit of the history of the outlawing of cannabis.  He carefully explains the few government studies that were initiated in the 60s and 70s and were quashed by none other than Richard Nixon.  He highlights current cannabis legislation that can lead to hefty jail time for non-violent offenders.  Some who weren’t even selling it, just using it to ease their pain from disease have spent hard jail time because of their “crime”.

He explains what those of us in medicine have known for years.  It is hard to quantify pain.  As a trained medical professional, I know what to look for i.e. elevated vital signs, guarding, fist clenching, grimacing.  But some with chronic pain (including myself) are so used to daily pain that there are hardly any outward indications that we are suffering unless it is REALLY bad.

I remember my first job as a nurse.  I worked in pediatrics at a very well-known children’s hospital.  I took care of tons of kids with sickle cell anemia.  That is where your blood cells aren’t formed correctly and they morph into a “sickle” shape.  Not only do they inadequately distribute oxygen, they clog up the small capillaries (the tiny blood vessels) and cause IMMENSE pain.  At young ages, these kids are on hard narcotics.  And yet, they are so used to it, when you ask them to rate their pain (or point to the frowny face) they will tell you they are having extreme pain, even while calmly playing video games.  Are these kids lying?  Are they attempting to score more drugs to get “high”? Do they even know what “high” means?  Probably not.  They probably just want relief from the pain wracking their little bodies.

My point is that pain is a nebulous entity.  I was trained to believe that “pain is whatever the patient says it is”.  But one of the big problems that people have with “medicinal marijuana” is that they can’t PROVE they are in pain.

Back to the book.  Mr. Campbell decides to do an experiment for his writing.  He decides to get a medicinal marijuana card and grow it himself so he can better understand the controversy.

I do agree that the way he obtained his card was kind of shady.  But in the fall of 2009 in Colorado, it was completely legal.

I was fascinated by his growing experience.  I honestly had no idea that so much went into cultivating a plant.  I have managed to kill every plant given to me, and I can’t imagine all of the prep, the money, the time and effort that goes in to creating high quality marijuana.

Throughout the entire book, the author makes it clear that what he was doing could land him in jail. Even if it was legal from the point of view of the state.  He references the “Ogden memo” of 2009 that led to the green rush.  It basically stated that from the federal side, they would not make a priority to bust medical marijuana users.  It wasn’t a blanket defense to sell marijuana, but it  gave some hints as to the intentions of the Obama administration.

I also appreciated how the author investigated the various pro-marijuana (and anti-marijuana) groups in the country.  Very helpful knowledge.  These guys aren’t degenerates, although some have records.  Many are lawyers, businessmen, other “respectable members of society” who admit to using marijuana on a regular basis.  Obviously they aren’t drooling in the corner from the insanity caused by reefer.

Overall, a fascinating read.  Like I said, my mind was already made up as to the benefits of cannabis.  But this book helped me gain knowledge and different perspective.

I also want to end with a final note.  I once had a patient, 27 years old, mom to two kids.  She had a very rare form of bone cancer.  Because she was poor and didn’t have insurance, her cancer was diagnosed way too late.  She did one round of chemo, which nearly killed her, and was told there was nothing they could do.  Her massive tumor was located in her hip bone and spread to her liver and other internal organs.

When I got her as a patient, she wasn’t ready to give up yet.  She still would go to the free cancer clinic three hours away to try and find a cure.  I had many conversations with her oncologist about how best to help her.

She had horrific pain.  I mean, searing, knife going through your bones, pain.  It was agony watching her.  We tried our best to control her pain.  She had a “pain pump” and I was frequently called out to adjust her pump so she wasn’t writhing in pain on her bed.  But the pain was just part of it.

What a lot of people don’t realize about chemo is that is forever changes your body.  Even people that “beat” cancer are left with horrific side effects as a result of the poison pummeling their bodies.  Many are left with intractable nausea that still occurs months (even years) after their last round.  Some are left with neuropathy, that is pain along the nerves.  One of my good friends, a breast cancer survivor, has permanent swelling in her legs as a result of the chemo.  And most every patient, friend, acquaintance I have come across that has taken chemo has ended up with “chemo brain”.  Think of it as a combo of forgetfulness and ADD.

My patient was no different.  Despite the fact that she had stopped chemo months before, she was still experiencing nausea.  She would take one bite of food, one sip of water and it would come up.  She didn’t want to go on a feeding tube, but she actually entertained the idea.  The meds that we provided for nausea were ineffective or put her in such a fog that she couldn’t spend time with her children.  Her brother pulled me aside one day and asked about marijuana.

As a nurse, I couldn’t say “yes, go up the street and score some illegal street drugs for your sister”.  But I told him the benefits and the risks.  I also obtained for her a prescription for Marinol, the synthetic THC pill.  I was warned by the doc that it probably would cause more harm than good because of the side effects, and that she would have to actually swallow the pill and keep it down for it to work, but the family elected to do this first rather than do something illegal.

And predictably, she suffered horrible side effects.  She hallucinated, she couldn’t sleep.  And that was the times that she could actually keep the med down.

So the family elected to go in another direction.  I don’t know for a fact that they obtained marijuana for her, because my own grandfather died soon after my last visit and she died before I was able to return to work.

I have seen the benefits of this natural plant on people who are greatly suffering.  This book didn’t need to convince me of that.  But what it did do was open my eyes to legalization, the current archaic laws of this nation, and the actual data involved.

I am a much improved advocate for marijuana after reading this book.

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