Dec. 7, 2010 -- Like so many other cookbook authors, Sandy Moriarty included recipes for a variety of foods, including desserts, appetizers and entrees.
But Moriarty's recipes include what she calls a special "magic ingredient."
"I'm known for my very potent cannabutter," said the 58-year-old Moriarty. Cannabutter, she explained, is butter mixed with marijuana and is used as the main ingredient in many of the recipes in her Aunt Sandy's Medical Marijuana Cookbook.
Moriarty's interest in medical marijuana developed as a result of her own medical condition. She has a non-growing tumor in her skull and because of her high blood pressure, she suffers periodically from excruciating headaches.
"The cannabis complements my blood pressure medication that keeps my pressure down, and I don't get headaches," said Moriarty.
She is author of one of the latest cookbooks to feature marijuana as an ingredient, and it's also just one of what experts say is a rapidly expanding marijuana industry featuring a wide range of marijuana-inspired products, including drinks, clothing, medical marijuana formulations and others. The booming business of pot, the experts say, is a natural outgrowth of the huge push to legalize medical marijuana.
"The medical marijuana movement has been critical in terms of giving some credibility to marijuana that isn't about stoners or recreational use," said Wendy Chapkis, professor of sociology at the University of Southern Maine in Portland and a co-author of the book Dying to Get High. "It's also mainstreamed it in some way."
Chapkis said cookbooks provide an easy way for many people to get marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"For people who were not already users, eating is the way to go. It's much easier to ingest than smoking," she said.
That's part of the reason Moriarty said she decided to compile the recipes in her book.
"If it works for my situation, imagine what it can do for people with very serious diseases, like cancer," she said.
Ellen Lenox Smith of Scituate, R.I., is a medical marijuana user who said while she can't eat foods with marijuana because of a number of sensitivities to food, she is glad that books like Moriarty's and other marijuana-inspired products are available to help educate people about the benefits of pot.
"I think the more educated people get the more they're going to realize there's nothing to be scared of," said Smith, who is an ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation and an advocate for the American Pain Foundation.
Smith said she suffers from two rare diseases: sarcoidosis, a condition that produces tiny lumps of cells on various body organs that can affect organ function, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes fragile skin and joint instability. She tried numerous other traditional remedies, but couldn't tolerate them.
Every day, she makes a marijuana tincture and takes a few teaspoons of it to help with her pain.
"If I take it during the day, it allows me to sit at my computer and work. I can also think and move, and at night, it allows me to get sleep," said Smith.
She said the marijuana she takes doesn't make her stoned.
"I don't get any of those feelings at all," she said.
Debate Over Medical Benefit
Patients like Smith have made it their mission to educate people about the benefits of medical marijuana. Some physicians also say the main active chemical in marijuana, THC, shows promise to help relieve certain types of pain and muscle spasticity.
"Research in general has shown that it's not useless, as some have critics have said," said Dr. Igor Grant, professor and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. "We don't know what all the uses are and it's no panacea, but it definitely has use."
The American Medical Association has urged the federal government to review marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 drug -- a drug considered to be highly addictive with no medical use -- to enable more clinical trials that can better assess the efficacy of medicinal marijuana.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 14 states, and experts believe because the medical marijuana movement is catching on, business is booming for the pot industry. The proof, they say, is books like Moriarty's.
"Because cannabis is big business, it doesn't surprise me at all that people are finding ways to make money," said Chapkis. "It's just another industry for a lot of people."
"People in general now recognize that marijuana is not a good thing, but neither is it a terrible poison," said Grant.
But despite the opinion of much of the medical community and the fact that medical marijuana use is legal in 14 states, so far the federal government does not support its use. The Food and Drug Administration took the stance several years ago that marijuana has no medicinal use or value, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not support legalizing marijuana for any reason, citing its addictive nature and numerous adverse health effects associated with use of the drug.
Instead, the DEA supports the use of Marinol, a synthetic drug containing THC that's been available since the 1980s. It also supports research into the development of similar synthetic drugs.
"The Food and Drug Administration has determined that Marinol is safe, effective and has therapeutic benefits for use as a treatment for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, and as a treatment of weight loss in patients with AIDS," the DEA says on its website. "However, it does not produce the harmful health effects associated with smoking marijuana."
But Grant said that drugs like Marinol -- called cannibinoids -- don't work well for everybody who uses them.
The absorption of the cabinoids is a little bit irregular," said Grant. "Some absorb well, others absorb poorly."
While the debate continues, people like Sandy Moriarty have been able to take advantage of the increasingly high profile of medical marijuana. Although she's been cooking with marijuana for decades and has been a staunch supporter of the movement to legalize medical marijuana, she's surprised she's been able to meet with commercial success.
"It tells me there's more of an underlying curiosity and interest in it than I thought," said Moriarty. "I thought it was a very small group of people who were fighting a no-win situation."