A story of government-issued pot


Only seven people in the United States can legally use marijuana as medicine. George McMahon is one of them, and he tells us about his experience in Prescription Pot: A Leading Advocate’s Heroic Battle to Legalize Marijuana.

McMahon supports medical marijuana and its distribution through a program he participates in — Investigational New Drug (IND). Administered by the Food and Drug Administration, IND has supplied medical marijuana to fifteen patients since 1976. IND stopped accepting applications for medical marijuana use in 1992.

McMahon cites medical studies, included in the appendix, that demonstrate marijuana’s medicinal benefits. But Prescription Pot does not dazzle the reader with scientific facts. Instead, it tells the story of how marijuana saved McMahon’s life.

McMahon suffers from Nail Patella Syndrome (NPS), a rare disease that deforms bones, disrupts organs and causes constant muscle spasms. Because of McMahon’s severe condition, which he describes in Prescription Pot, Christopher Largen, a journalist and friend, wrote the entire book on McMahon’s behalf. The text was based on numerous conversations between McMahon and Largen over one year.

In Prescription Pot, McMahon, his wife Margaret, Largen and a documentary film crew take a four-day trip from McMahon’s home in Fort Worth, Texas, to three locations significant for supporters of the medical marijuana movement. In Little Rock, Ark., McMahon urges lawmakers in the Arkansas Capitol to endorse legislation permitting medical marijuana. In Memphis, Tenn., the group visits Graceland, where they recall that Elvis campaigned against drugs for Nixon while he himself was a drug addict — one of the many inconsistencies surrounding the government’s policy towards drugs that is addressed in Prescription Pot. At the final stop in Oxford, Miss., McMahon and his group attempt to visit a facility at the University of Mississippi where the government-issued marijuana is grown.

During the journey, McMahon routinely becomes fatigued and smokes a joint — one of the 300 that are given to him monthly by IND. As they drive, he recalls months of hospitalization due to infirmities such as hepatitis A and B, tuberculosis, rheumatoid fever and injuries to his spine, leg and wrist.

Once he started smoking marijuana, McMahon says, he was able to resume a functioning life because the cornucopia of drugs prescribed by doctors had only made him feel worse.

McMahon talks of marijuana’s miraculous curative qualities. While recovering from a kidney operation in Iowa City Hospital, he smoked an illegally obtained marijuana cigarette following a doctor’s suggestion. He immediately felt better and was able to leave the hospital for the first time in three months, he says.

McMahon says illegally obtained marijuana is not ideal because of its expense, questionable quality and the possibility of arrest.

But he did not have to turn to illegal marijuana for long because a new doctor suggested that McMahon apply for IND, which was founded after glaucoma patient Robert Randall filed a successful lawsuit against the federal government claiming that his right to smoke marijuana was unjustly prohibited. McMahon says he received advice from Randall on how to complete the complicated application, which removed one obstacle that many patients found difficult to surmount in applying for medical marijuana. After two years of completing documents, McMahon became the fifth person in the U.S. to legally smoke marijuana.

Admittance to IND has put an extraordinary pressure on McMahon to assist the suffering people who could benefit from medical marijuana. He tells of frequent e-mails from terminally ill patients, asking McMahon how they can obtain marijuana. McMahon does not risk violating IND rules by giving any illegal advice.

McMahon’s fight to legalize marijuana is never ending, and Prescription Pot concludes with McMahon expressing concern for people who are denied access to medical marijuana.

“But I’ll be returning to the fray soon to fight for those suffering who cannot speak for themselves and whose pain may be alleviated like mine — by medical cannabis,” the book says.