While the United States government refuses to admit the cannabis plant has any real medicinal benefit, its position has not prevented federal health agencies, over the years, from approving synthetic versions of the herb’s psychoactive component to be used by Big Pharma in the treatment of serious conditions.
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one of the primary barriers in the grand scheme of nationwide legalization, recently approved a liquid variety of synthetic tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) that will be sold to people suffering from AIDS and cancer.
It was revealed earlier this month that Insys Therapeutics is gearing up to go after a piece of the medical marijuana market, one reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with a new FDA-approved form of dronabinol. This first-of-a-kind liquid THC synthetic, set to be stocked on pharmacy shelves under the name Syndros, has been given the green light for the treatment of “anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS, and nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy in patients who have failed to respond adequately to conventional antiemetic treatments.”
Although dronabinol, which is commonly referred to under its brand name Marinol, is nothing new to the pharmaceutical industry’s clever approach to capitalizing on marijuana, the latest version is an “easy-to-swallow” liquid designed for quicker absorption than its pill counterpart. A press release issued by Insys indicates that the drug company plans to convert the majority of its dronabinol business over to Syndros by meeting with nearly 8,000 physicians to discuss the benefits of the updated product.
Of course, this laboratory creation has the advantage over the cannabis products being sold in conjunction with state medical marijuana programs because it comes with a Schedule III classification under the Controlled Substances Act—suggesting both medicinal value and a low risk for abuse. The cannabis plant, however, is still ranked with heroin under Schedule I—a classification that deems the herb as having no medical value and a high risk for abuse.
Interestingly, while there are surely some patients out there who prefer taking dronabinol to smoking marijuana, there is significant evidence that shows that plant-based medications are vastly superior to these Big Pharma synthetics because of a complex cannabinoid/terpene combination known as the “Entourage Effect.” Prescription drugs, like Sydros, are simply test-tube THC, while whole plant medicine can be best described as a wild dance of hundreds of compounds, working together in mysterious combinations to provide the patient with a desired result.
It is for this reason that many patients who have been prescribed dronabinol throughout the past several decades have complained the drug is nowhere near as effective as cannabis.
“When the drug became available in the mid-1980s, scientists thought it would have the same effect as the whole cannabis plant. But it soon became clear that most patients preferred using the whole plant to taking Marinol,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote for CNN back in 2014. “Researchers began to realize that other components, such as CBD, might have a larger role than previously realized.”
But drug companies like Insys and GW Pharmaceuticals, currently on track to bring a CBD-based epilepsy drug called Epidiolex to market, are speaking the federal government’s language when it comes to putting so-called “safe and effective” drugs on the market. By dissecting the cannabis plant to establish a difference between its beneficial and evil components, like one DEA official recently said was happening, drug controllers are able to keep a tight leash on the product, while enabling a place for it in the black market, allowing significant profitability through criminal prosecutions, property seizures and obscene taxes on legal marijuana businesses.
Insys Therapeutics predicts it will generate $700 million annually from the sale of Syndros.