Dying to Get High: a Case for Medical Marijuana

In 1996 in Santa Cruz, CA, a group of terminally ill patients quit taking their doctor prescribed medications and began using marijuana, or California weed. They used it to control seizures, reduce pain, and treat depression triggered by their conditions. Their personal experiences varied, but what brought them together was their shared belief that California weed had made their lives livable where other medically approved drugs had failed.

Dying to Get High: a Case for Medical Marijuana

Led by trauma patient and activist Valerie Leveroni-Corral, they created the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM). This not-for-profit organization is committed to providing medical quality California weed to persons with serious medical conditions.

In a book entitled, Dying to Get High, authors Richard Webb and Wendy Chapkis describe the challenges they had to face in their efforts to keep the group together. In addition to the outreach efforts, political work, and their efforts to survive the assaults of local and federal governments, they also detail the difficult work of cultivating, harvesting, and distributing the cannabis they grew.

As they labored endlessly to raise funds for the organization, they also worked ’round the clock to create liniments, tinctures, baked goods, and other products used to deliver the beneficial properties of their California weed. They did all of this while providing their products to the people in the collective without charging a single cent for their work. Every medicinal product they delivered to their seriously ill friends and neighbors was given absolutely free of charge.

These activities proved to be physically demanding, labor-intensive, and technically challenging. However, in the same year that the group was formed, California’s Compassionate Use Act was signed into law. While this did not eliminate the often difficult legal and cultural resistance to their work, it did help. The act made it possible for patients to obtain a permit that allowed them to possess medical-grade California weed with a doctor’s prescription.

But even with this new set of laws in place, the federal government still considered marijuana to be a dangerous, psychoactive drug. The federal government to this day, considers all of the components of the cannabis plant to be a schedule 1 drug, even the parts of the plant that have no psychoactive effects. The federal government still holds that marijuana is as dangerous as heroin, and classes it with the hardest and most dangerous street drugs known.

Nearly 17 years ago in 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s power to continue to regulate the use of medical marijuana, tightening its grip and increasing the risk to groups like WAMM.

Considering the costs, labor, and risks California weed growers are exposed to, some asked WAMM members why not ask their doctors for a prescription for dronabinol. Dronabinol is a legal, FDA-approved drug that contains Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC). This is the primary active ingredient in medical-grade marijuana. The group contends that Dronabinol comes with a long list of side effects that naturally grown marijuana does not have.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the side effects of Dronabinol include mood changes, confusion, delusions, pounding or rapid heartbeat, loss of memory, feelings of unreality, depression, anxiety, and hallucinations. Some rare side effects include blurred vision, sweating, dizziness, and chills.

Symptoms of a Dronabinol overdose include seizures, constipation, panic, decrease in motor coordination, problems urinating, and more.

While most of the side effects of medical marijuana are similar to those of Dronabinol, they are often considered to be milder, temporary, and even desirable or enjoyable by users. It’s worth noting that smoking marijuana is considered unsafe as soot in the lungs can never be healthy. It is generally considered to be far less dangerous than smoking tobacco, however, due to the fact that tobacco is almost always treated with a wide range of preservatives. Cigarettes especially contain metals in the wrapping paper which are there to make it burn evenly. Medical marijuana rarely contains preservatives, additives, or other chemicals, and the plant itself is far less toxic than tobacco.

These and other similar arguments make WAMM’s case for the relaxation of regulations on marijuana quite strong. They and others would point out that while pharmaceutical drugs like Dronabinol have caused many millions of cases of severe addiction, negative medical effects, and even suicide, marijuana has no such track record. While deaths from tobacco use continue to soar into the millions each and every year, deaths or even injuries from California weed are rare at worst.

Today, Dying to Get High remains one of the most influential works promoting and defending the use of medical marijuana. The book offers an in-depth look at the lives of people suffering from deadly and debilitating conditions as they seek dignity in their lives as well as the pain of which the medical community has failed to relieve them.

At a point in history when we know marijuana to be far superior to allopathic drugs, it is strange that we continue to permit our leaders to deny us life-altering medicine while promoting dangerous and experimental drugs.