Stoner MacGyver marijuana book review: Super Charged
Now and then, companies send us medical marijuana-related products ranging from vaporizers to board games to books. We showcase them in our quasi-regular product review section, Stoner MacGyver.
The latest? Super Charged: How Outlaws, Hippies and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana
What is it, dude? A book that attempts to cover the long, detailed history of cannabis use in the United States over the last fifty years.
How much coin will it run me? $25 for the hardcover version when it comes out next month.
This week, we took a look at a book -- you know, those things with printed sheets of paper bound on one end that people flip through and read? Good. Wanted to make sure I hadn't lost you.
Super Charged: How Outlaws, Hippies and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana covers both the legal and illegal sides of cannabis cultivation over the past half-century. Author Jim Rendon can normally be found freelancing for the New York Times, Mother Jones and Fortune covering business, science and the environment. But for someone who has never really been a part of the cannabis scene, he does a great job immersing himself in our world and condensing the last several decades into 242 pages by offering a broad perspective on everything from genetics to politics.
The book isn't necessarily for those of you with a decent grasp on cannabis history or knowledge, and Rendon is constantly making asides about things like strain names ("nonsensical"), how breeders only grow female plants, how marijuana must be trimmed before being put on the market, and the differences between growing from seed versus clones and even the various stories behind the "OG" in OG Kush.
But that's not to say you can't learn a few things from reading it.
The book starts by looking into the life of famed cultivator and grow-book author Jorge Cervantes and his path from a clandestine pot farmer in the U.S. to his move to cannabis-friendly Spain in the '80s and '90s, and now his return to California and its friendly medical cannabis laws.
Rendon discusses the growth of the medical marijuana industry in California and how it brought cannabis to the mainstream, but he also gives readers some historical perspective on cannabis use going back thousands of years. He features historical anecdotes about the black market ganja trade, as well. There are interesting footnotes on how seeds from Jamaica and Mexico, along with landrace seeds from Pakistan and Afghanistan, began to be coveted by 1970s-era hippies, who began growing them in their backyards and eventually basements. He discusses the shift from smoking leaves and seeded buds to female sinsemilia buds.
And he does it all in an almost astonished tone -- mirroring, no doubt, the surprise that many non-users will have at how intricate growing cannabis really is. And rightfully so: This is a fascinating plant and culture that is much more sophisticated than many people realize.
Also interesting are stories about the boom in domestic cannabis production in the '80s and early '90s that helped fuel the massive breeding efforts and development of so many hybrid strains. Rendon details the rise of people like Cervantes and Ed Rosenthal, who quite literally wrote the books on indoor cannabis cultivation that changed how people grow cannabis. In addition, he talks with illegal growers still operating in northern California and describes their operations and struggles at a human level that doesn't either demonize or aggrandize them. Instead, he paints a picture of people following their passion and -- in a way -- creating their own version of history.
Paralleling cannabis cultivation with other fields in botany, Rendon shows how being forced underground helped pot growers by not subjecting them to rules or regulations from horticultural governing bodies or governments. But it also touches on the downside of breeding, such as diluted gene pools, inbred characteristics and a flood of genetics that may all be nearly identical when looked at on a closer level. At times, Rendon gets slightly Mr. Wizard on the reader with technical talk about F1 seed generations and stabilizing strains. Still, you don't need a degree in plant husbandry to understand what he's talking about.
Finally, the book looks at the medical marijuana industry and marijuana as a medicine. Rendon spends some time at Harborside Health Center in Oakland -- which many of you know from the Discovery show Weed Wars -- and talks about how staffers there treat cannabis like a "rarefied product." The book goes into detail about cannabis clubs in California buying from outside growers and what the general workings of a medical cannabis shop are. To anyone who watched the TV show, these chapters offer little new insight.
Where Rendon lost me (and potentially a lot of other medical cannabis supporters) was in the chapter about medical cannabis uses. Granted, he gives some great insight to the non-informed about strides in medical cannabis research. He goes into detail about CBD and how it truly has medicinal value. But he also advocates for GW Pharmaceuticals' approach to cannabis and their cornering of the market through patents and government permission to study the plant.
To be fair, the chapter provides a lot of insight into GW's operations, including how the company grows plants in huge greenhouses using natural light and no pesticides. But to say that "GW represents the best of both worlds" (the natural and the pharmaceutical) is borderline insulting to the people who have been pioneering medical cannabis for years without the help of massive labs and government oversight. And then there's his almost-praise for the firm's establishing patents on certain marijuana strains, which allows GW to sue breeders in the future for using those plants. That, Rendon says, is the needed professionalism that was missing from the cannabis industry.
Super Charged: How Outlaws, Hippies and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana drops next month from Timber Press.
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