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Super-charged: how outlaws, hippies and scientists reinvented marijuana (Book review)

Fascinating insight into marijuana use

‘Super-charged: how outlaws, hippies and scientists reinvented marijuana’ by Jim Rendon. Pp 256. Price £18.99. Devon: Timber Press; 2012. ISBN 978 1 4027 8585 6

This book offers a fascinating insight into the awkward interface between the illegal recreational use of cannabis and its growing lawful role as an adjuvant in medical conditions such as chronic pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS. The book concentrates on the US, where in 1996 California became the first state to allow the drug’s medicinal use.

Now a third of states have passed laws allowing its use on the recommendation of a physician, but the situation is confusing because the drug remains illegal at federal level and state legislation varies not only between states but also from district to district within each state.  

The author has interviewed a cross-section of people involved in cannabis production. Some are involved only in its illegal supply, but others provide plants for distribution through legal dispensaries. Although there seems to be little formal control over the quality of these supplies, most dispensaries have set their own standards for the plants they purchase.

And because growers try to meet these standards, it seems that the quality of the cannabis that some also supply illegally has improved, too.

The author also contrasts the aims of the underworld cannabis suppliers with the policies of legitimate pharmaceutical companies. Many illegal suppliers strive to boost their business by adding new “supercharged” varieties to the 2,000 cannabis strains already available. In contrast, pharmaceutical companies want their cannabis-based products to display consistency in action. The book illustrates this by examining the UK’s GW Pharmaceuticals, which aims to ensure that its licensed cannabinoid product, Sativex, an oromucosal spray, maintains a standardised action that can benefit multiple sclerosis and cancer patients without producing an unnecessary “high” as a side effect.

Although many of the pioneers who built the unlawful cannabis trade are now involved in its legitimate supply, the book warns that, as the medicinal use of cannabis grows, they may find themselves forced out of business by mainstream pharmaceutical companies eager to cash in on a market potentially worth billions of dollars. This highly readable book provides plenty of food for thought for those involved in healthcare or politics.

Andrew Haynes is former deputy editor at The Pharmaceutical Journal

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11115981

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