Dying to Get High

Marijuana as Medicine

272 pages

17 illustrations

August, 2008

ISBN: 9780814716670



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Wendy Chapkis is Professor of Sociology and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, ME. She is the author of the award-winning book Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor and Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance.

All books by Wendy Chapkis

Richard J. Webb is a lecturer in Communication Studies at San Jose State University, San Jose, CA.

All books by Richard J. Webb

Dying to Get High with Susie Bright on Boing Boing!

Warring Wines; ’You Want to Fight?’; Nurse Mary Jane in Santa Cruz

High Times interviews the authors

Alternet excerpt of the book ("How Pot Became Demonized")

Discussion from the Santa Cruz Metro

Marijuana as medicine has been a politically charged topic in this country for more than three decades. Despite overwhelming public support and growing scientific evidence of its therapeutic effects (relief of the nausea caused by chemotherapy for cancer and AIDS, control over seizures or spasticity caused by epilepsy or MS, and relief from chronic and acute pain, to name a few), the drug remains illegal under federal law.

In Dying to Get High, noted sociologist Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb investigate one community of seriously-ill patients fighting the federal government for the right to use physician-recommended marijuana. Based in Santa Cruz, California, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) is a unique patient-caregiver cooperative providing marijuana free of charge to mostly terminally ill members. For a brief period in 2004, it even operated the only legal non-governmental medical marijuana garden in the country, protected by the federal courts against the DEA.

Using as their stage this fascinating profile of one remarkable organization, Chapkis and Webb tackle the broader, complex history of medical marijuana in America. Through compelling interviews with patients, public officials, law enforcement officers and physicians, Chapkis and Webb ask what distinguishes a legitimate patient from an illegitimate pothead, good drugs from bad, medicinal effects from just getting high. Dying to Get High combines abstract argument and the messier terrain of how people actually live, suffer and die, and offers a moving account of what is at stake in ongoing debates over the legalization of medical marijuana.


  • "A thought provoking portrait of a Santa Cruz cannabis collective."

    The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • "Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine is an important and accessible book—not heavy on academic jargon, but rather lively and engaging, like a true detective novel—with a broad appeal to those interested in the medical potential of cannabis, an end to the drug war and grass roots activism."

    High Times

  • "Chapkis and Webb offer a well-written exposition of the polemics involved in the medical marijuana controversy. . . . Chapkis and Webb have skillfully intertwined abstract concepts with "real life" experiences that exemplify the costs and benefits of the medical marijuana drama."


  • "This is a beautifully written account from the front lines of a struggle between a federal drug war complex determined to keep demonizing marijuana and the growing movement of patients and doctors who have found marijuana to be a valuable medicine. Voters in California and many other states have strongly supported the patients. The moving stories in this book show why."

    —Craig Reinarman, co-author of Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice

  • "Emphasis here is on the human experience—extensive interviews provide a unique look at the day-to-day issues faced by chronic and terminally ill patients who find relief through the marijuana that is grown and distributed to them at no cost. WAMM’s history, philosophies, and relationship with local officials are also examined."

    Library Journal

  • "Chapkis and Webb’s new book provides a human element to the history, pharmacology, psychology, and politics of medical marijuana in a way that no other work has. The book is as riveting as a detective novel, as informative as a textbook, and as moving as a romance. I loved reading it and sure wish I’d written it."

    —Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D. , Author of Understanding Marijuana

  • "Chapkis and Webb have done a masterful job in describing the intricacies of the drug debate and offer brilliant analysis on a complex and controversial subject. Both baby boomers and the current teenage population will find this book important and compelling reading."

    —Terry Williams, author of Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line

  • "Offering nuance in the place of slogans, Dying to Get High tells an inspiring story of the tactics and philosophies of a little-understood health movement."

    —Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research

  • "Their book offers an important overview of a public policy matter that is certain to become more significant in the coming years."

    SocietyBooks of Note

  • "The authors offer a compelling take on the political and cultural debates that surround this issue."

    Portland Phoenix

  • "Offers a fascinating look at medi-pot, medi-pot patients, and the state of the nation’s drug laws, a must-read for every pot-law reformer."

    Austin Chronicle

  • “The authors clarify many of the issues relating to medical marijuana and how it differs from recreational use.”

    Library Journal

  • “Criticizes the disconnect between public policy and practical knowledge of the lives of medical marijuana users.”

    The Chronicle Review

  • “Addresses many important questions and contradictions in government policy, effectively rebutting official propaganda with common sense, scientific facts and the anecdotal evidence recorded by WAMM patients... the book is so well-written and researched that even the most hard-hearted will be persuaded that the Fed’s policies against the medicinal use of cannabis need to change now.”

    High Times

  • “An interesting and intelligent contribution to the contemporary history of drugs.”

    —Stephen Snelders, VU-University Medical Center, Amsterdam