BOOK REVIEW: Leonard Leinow & Juliana Birnbaum, "CBD: A Patient\'s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis" (2017)

Over the past five years, I\’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about pot. Seems that no matter where I go, who I\’m speaking to, or how the subject is brought up, the conversation inevitably turns to the healing power of the cannabis plant.

This past Saturday was no different. I was in Colorado Springs doing a book signing at The Bookman, a small used bookstore on the city\’s west side. Not many people came into the store while I was there, but of the eight or nine people I met that evening, about half of them saw my book and immediately opened up about their experiences with medical cannabis. One particularly moving story came from a middle-aged man with painfully gnarled hands that marked an extreme case of rheumatoid arthritis. Thanks to cannabis treatments, he was able to cut up a pineapple by himself last week – something he could not do for years, even though he\’d been taking prescription medication.
Impressed – though not surprised – by his story, I told the man about a book I was about to review for this site: Leonard Leinow and Juliana Birnbaum\’s CBD: A Patient\’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2017). Leinow is a globe-traveling cannabis guru who founded the medical cannabis company Synergy Wellness in 2008; Birnbaum is an anthropologist, writer, and trained midwife who started working for Leinow\’s dispensary in 2015. 
The book\’s title is the shortened name of cannabidiol (can-ah-bid-DIE-all), one of dozens of cannabinoids – compounds unique to cannabis plants. At Synergy, the authors \”get calls every day, from patients looking for instructions and advice on CBD to care for themselves, their children, or their pets\” (p. xxiv). With so many people curious about cannabis therapy, and with so little information available to doctors and other medical professionals, Leinow and Birnbaum decided to put many of the answers to these daily calls into a book.
Packed with up-to-date, scientifically verified information on the medical applications of cannabis, CBD: A Patient\’s Guide targets those who are considering cannabis treatment but aren\’t sure where to begin. It contains answers to a variety of FAQ\’s, such as \”What kind of treatments are available?\” \”Does one have to get high in order for cannabis to help?\” and \”How do different varieties of cannabis treat different afflictions?\”
The book is designed to be used in chunks, depending on what the reader wants to know. Those who want a brief overview on cannabis before delving into its various functions can turn to chapters on the plant\’s medical history and ethnobotany; those interested in the plant\’s chemistry can consult sections on specific cannabinoids and terpenes; those looking for advice on how to treat a specific condition can turn to the alphabetized list of health issues (there\’s even a section on cannabis medicines for your pet). In what will likely be one of the book\’s most popular sections, Leinow and Birnbaum include an alphabetized and annotated list of high-CBD cannabis varieties. This sectional structure makes the book easily accessible to readers with different needs, interests, and knowledge levels.
CBD: A Patient\’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis includes an annotated list of high-CBD strains.
Although it may seem to consist of standalone chapters, the book\’s structure actually mirrors its broader theme. \”Synergy\” refers to the different parts of a system interacting to produce something greater than the sum of the parts. The concept is central to the authors\’ philosophy on cannabis treatments. \”The focus of medical treatment,\” they argue, \”needs to be that of achieving the right dose of a balanced spectrum of cannabinoids tailored to the particular condition\” (p. 23).
This holistic approach is one of the most attractive arguments in the book, because it acknowledges and validates what the pharmaceutical industry can\’t seem to grasp: that the chemical diversity of medicinal plants – as opposed to a single compound – often holds the key to more effective medicine.  Pharmaceutical companies compete to patent the latest wonder drug, but you can\’t patent a plant (unless you invent it), which is part of the reason why Big Pharma has remained opposed to lifting restrictions on cannabis. It\’s also part of the reason why mainstream medicine has paid little attention to the medicinal value of the entire cannabis plant.
For its section on cannabis history, the CBD book leans heavily on Martin A. Lee\’s Smoke Signals (which I\’ve also reviewed on this blog), even including a lengthy passage from Lee\’s section on Harry Anslinger. While Lee\’s book isn\’t necessarily objective history, it\’s still mostly accurate, so readers won\’t be led astray in that section of CBD
Overall, Leinow and Birnbaum have produced a comprehensive, informative volume with very few shortcomings. The book is almost guaranteed to be a hit among the cannabis-consuming public, the alternative medicine community, and for journalists and other researchers who want the most up-to-date information on the plant\’s medical potential. CBD\’s reliability cannot be contested; it includes nearly 500 endnotes, most of which reference peer-reviewed articles, and the authors write that updates will be posted on the book\’s official website,
Leonard Leinow, Juliana Birnbaum, and the dozens of medical professionals, researchers, and scientists who collaborated on CBD: A Patient\’s Guide have truly done society a favor: they\’ve given us an honest, accessible, and highly applicable reference work on one of the world\’s most complex and medically valuable plants.

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