George McMahon is not allowed to visit the field where the federal government
grows his marijuana. He has stood outside the double razor-wire fence circling
the plot in Mississippi, but he's not allowed inside.

"I'm not really sure that I want to see it. The thought of all of that medicine
locked up, while so many people are hurting, makes me angry," McMahon writes in
his recently released book, "Prescription Pot."

McMahon suffers from a debilitating genetic disorder called Nail Patella
Syndrome. Since 1990, the government has supplied him with 300 tightly rolled
joints each month. Only four other Americans are permitted to smoke
government-grown marijuana through the FDA's Compassionate Investigational New
Drug Program, McMahon said in a telephone interview Tuesday from his home near

Marijuana has made his painful life livable, said the 54-year-old former miner
and mechanic. It's now his mission to help others gain legal rights to use the
drug. His book, which was released Saturday, details his fight to legalize
marijuana. The 200-page book is co-written by Christopher Largen and published
by New Horizon Press.

"When I had marijuana, I was better. It was a miraculous easement of symptoms,"
McMahon said. "I'm still not recommending everybody go out and smoke a joint,
but if you do, it shouldn't be a big deal."

McMahon has been married 32 years. One of his three children, Linda, lives in
Billings. She also suffers from Nail Patella Syndrome, a hereditary condition
that causes a wide variety of abnormalities of the limbs, as well as kidney
disease and glaucoma. Like her father, Linda McMahon now finds pain pills
worthless. But she has never tried marijuana out of fear of possi ble legal
trouble, including having her children taken away. She knows that the drug did
wonders for her father.

"I was there when he got approved," she said. "It has really helped. He's a
totally different person now without all the pain."

Linda McMahon said she is going to visit her doctor later this month to see if
she would be a good candidate for the drug Marinol, which has an active
ingredient that mimics the chemical compound produced naturally by the
marijuana plant.

George McMahon occasionally smoked marijuana back in the 1960s -- illegally --
and discovered that it eased his pain, nausea and leg spasms. It wasn't until
years later, when his conditioned worsened, that McMahon came to rely on the
drug as a regular part of his treatment.

It was after a major kidney operation when he was lying in a hospital bed "like
a gutted fish," he said. He had not eaten solid food in 30 days and had not
slept well for six weeks. The doctors gave him less than a week to live. Late
one night, a cancer patient down the hall traded him a marijuana joint for a
cigarette. McMahon lit up in his hospital bed.

"I was hurting too much to care," he wrote.

His appetite returned and his pain lifted.

"I simply felt better. I was more alert, my pain was not as debilitating and it
was easier for me to move around. The spasms I suffered, particularly in my
legs, which prevented me from sleeping eased after smoking marijuana and my
legs didn't dance around on their own all night," he wrote.

McMahon had taken up to 50 different pills each day. "I used to gulp pills like
a candy addict munching gumdrops," he wrote. "It seemed my doctor had a pill
for everything. Pills to wake up. Pills to sleep. Pills to relax muscles. Pills
to relieve pain. Pills to fight infections."

After he started smoking marijuana regularly, "I haven't taken a pill since,"
he said. "My whole world is very natural, very nice."

In the late 1980s, McMahon learned about a government study that provided
marijuana to people with certain medical conditions. McMahon was the fifth
person to apply to the FDA program. His approval took two years. About 2,000
others applied, he said. Only 15 eventually were supplied with government pot
before President George Bush shut down the program in 1992. Five continue to
receive the marijuana.

McMahon's joints come pre-rolled and packed in a metal tin. All of it is free.
The marijuana is about a quarter less potent than typical "Mexican red" bought
from a street dealer. McMahon smokes about a quarter-pound each month -- this
works out to about 10 joints on many days -- but he doesn't get high. The drug
keeps him pain-free, lucid, relaxed and able to do daily tasks.

"I don't go numb, I don't just trip off from Cloud Nine," he said.

McMahon said he can't figure out why the drug is illegal. Alcohol has been
proven to be more destructive to bodies and society, he said. Numerous studies
he included at the back of his book show the drug has medical benefits.

In McMahon's opinion, the government's ban on the plant is based on a
philosophy of "I don't like this so you can't do it."

Voters are increasingly fighting the federal drug laws, but McMahon said
there's no certain outcome over the fight to legalize the drug.

"When you get hold of the neck of the snake it fights even harder," he said.

Pubdate: Thu, 25 Sep 2003
Source: Billings Gazette, The (MT)
Copyright: 2003 The Billings Gazette