We have been privileged over the past few days to have had David Casarett in town and around Volteface HQ in London.
David launched his book Stoned at our London studio last night and provided some insights into the rise of medical cannabis in the US to packed room of UK reform campaigners. David’s book is the best selling book ever on the subject and his physician background lends to it an added significance. Over coffee in Fitzrovia I wanted to find out more about his life and what had inspired him to write the book.
David was born in Hawaii to academic parents and spent his childhood moving across the country before settling in Philadelphia, where he still lives and works at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
Over the last five years David has balanced his life between his medical practice and writing by fiction and non-fiction (his first novel, a detective tale set in Thailand, is published in January).
David’s first book Last Acts focused on the the choices people face at the end of their life (he is pondering assisted dying as the subject of his next book). It wasn’t until his second book Shocked, inspired by the story of a two-year-old girl named Michelle Funk, that he established his reputation as a popular science writer, examining the moral and ethical issues generated by modern medical innovation. Michelle fell into a creek and was underwater for over an hour. When she was found she wasn’t breathing, and her pupils were fixed and dilated. That drowning should have been fatal. But after three hours of persistent work, a team of doctors and nurses was able to bring her back. It was a miracle.
If Michelle could come back after three hours of being dead, what about twelve hours? Or twenty-four? What would it take to revive someone who had been frozen for one thousand years? And what does blurring the line between “life” and “death” mean for society?
Shocked chronicled his exploration of the cutting edge of resuscitation and revealed just how far science has come. It provides an eye opening tour of the surreal world of doctors, engineers, animal biologists, and cryogenics enthusiasts trying to bring the recently dead back to life.
So what inspired Stoned? Well his day job did. Ten years ago no one ever appeared in his surgery asking for cannabinoid treatments. Now he gets around two a day. It is symptom of the transformed relationship between the doctor and patients facilitated by the internet. David feels that many physicians become very defensive when confronted with patients coming in with printed off web pages citing lab studies but also recognises that physicians nearly always have a level of insight into diseases that most patients could never have.
It was the potential to enhance collaboration between patients and doctors that spurred him to write Shocked to create ‘building blocks’ for a better conversation.
Shocked provides tremendous insights for drug reform campaigners, doctors and the general reader. Casarett started assuming that there would be no randomised control trials of cannabinoid treatments and was shocked that many existed. He is critical of the inconsistency of medicinal marijuana legislation across the US drawing a comparison to the issues over access to AZT for AIDS patients in the 1980’s. Since publishing the book Casarett has become the US’s most prominent advocate of cannabinoid research recognising that tens of millions of dollars that need to be found before we can truly know how effective marijuana can be across a range of conditions.
Last night David was asked at his launch if in the course of writing the book he changed his view of legalisation of marijuana in the US. I asked him again today. His view? He is satisfied that there is no fathomable reason why it should be illegal while alcohol and particularly cigarettes are legal.
David is appearing in Newcastle tonight and in Omagh on Saturday night.
Stoned is available for purchase here.