Weed Reading

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 20, 2004.

  1. By Jessica Warner
    Source: Globe and Mail

    When I first got this assignment, I cringed. I had read enough of the literature on marijuana to know that it is truly awful. On the one side, you have such howlers as Emily F. Murphy's Black Candle, published in 1922 and based, I am sorry to report, on a series of articles appearing in Maclean's magazine. "Persons using marijuana," we read, "smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane." Ms. Murphy was being her usual understated self. But this much is true: Prolonged exposure to the drug can have potentially fatal effects on the brain's irony receptors.

    Everybody is at risk, the people who hate marijuana just as much as the people who sing its praises. Among the latter is Jonathon Green, author of Cannabis (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002). He informs us, just a little too defensively, "I have written or compiled 50-plus books, lived with one partner for more than 25 years and I write dictionaries, a task that is particularly demanding of what one might term the 'mental filing cabinet.' " The same author goes on to give instructions about how to grow marijuana. "Don't, of course, try this at home," he adds.
    Tee hee! Another aficionado has something very important to tell us: "Morocco is part of the Arab world." This astonishing revelation is to be found in Brian Preston's Pot Planet (Grove Press, 2002). One wonders whether Faulkner would have gotten that Nobel Prize if he had been a stoner and not a lush.

    One of the biggest problems with the literature is that almost all of it has been written by people who lived through the sixties and seventies. This is not a moral failing -- far from it -- but it does mean that what they have to say is almost always frozen in time. Suffice it to say that the culture has changed dramatically since then, and with it, the meanings that people attach to marijuana. This was brought home in a study done several years ago at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. We were conducting focus groups with high-school students, and one of the questions that we asked was whether they or their friends shared marijuana. In almost every group, the answer was the same (no), as was the explanation: "More for me." So much for the image of hippies passing a joint around a circle. That said, I won't even bother to recommend a book that does justice to the current marijuana scene. This is because there is no such book. Of course, if you are feeling nostalgic, you are welcome to read Marianne Faithfull's autobiography (Cooper Square Press, 2000).

    My top choice is Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence (Linde- smith Center, 1997). The book is surprisingly readable (it helps that it's short), and if its authors, Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan, are just a little too gaga over ganja, their findings stand as a warning against assuming that all of the research on the topic is scientific. This caveat is especially true of studies funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Washington, D.C. Of course, Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts was itself funded in part by the Lindesmith Center, which is dedicated to establishing "new drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights and a just society in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more." I do not say this to knock the Lindesmith Foundation. On the contrary. I am openly sympathetic to its goals. But in this as in any other study that someone else funds, caveat lector.

    A book by Leslie Iversen, The Science of Marijuana (Oxford University Press, 2000) covers much the same ground as Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts. It is slightly more detailed (warning: it contains the odd chart plus illustrations of chemical compounds) but it is nonetheless accessible. It is also rather more balanced. If Zimmer and Morgan are to be believed, marijuana has practically no effects (why then, do people love it so?); Iversen, by contrast, neither discounts nor exaggerates its effects. This is, in fact, the book that I recommend that parents give their teenagers. Assuming that your kids read it, they will probably lose all interest in pot. (I am reminded of Why You Feel the Way you Do or You and Your Changing Body or whatever book it was that I was issued in high-school biology.) And finally, there are almost too many books about the history of marijuana.

    None rise to the level of the newest spate of commodity histories. The reason is simple enough: Very few of us are passionate about cod or coal or salt or potatoes. Not so for the people who write about marijuana. But if I must recommend a book, it is Cannabis: A History (Doubleday, 2003). Its author, Martin Booth, previously wrote a history of opium. Cannabis is perhaps not Booth's best effort (for whatever reason, marijuana does not seem to bring out the best in writers), but he does manage to cover a lot of ground, with several pages on the drug's unhappy history in Canada. In my simplicity, I had some problems with the book's semantics. Why, for example, are the people who oppose marijuana "capitalists," but the people who grow and distribute it "entrepreneurs"? But I can certainly agree with his conclusion: As the kids (used to) say, it's time for everyone to "get real." Until that time, we are left with a literature that takes itself and its topic just a little too seriously.

    Jessica Warner is a research scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She is the author of Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason and John the Painter: Terrorist of the American Revolution.

    Note: As the grow-op industry continues to grow, Jessica Warner looks at the literature of the most popular drug.

    Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
    Author: Jessica Warner
    Published: Saturday, March 13, 2004 - Page D19
    Copyright: 2004 The Globe and Mail Company
    Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca
    Website: http://www.globeandmail.com/
     

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