The Drug Enforcement Administration has awarded a Schedule II classification for a cannabis solution.
Cannabis itself is classified under Schedule I, the same classification as heroin, and marijuana advocates have long hoped that the DEA would lessen the drug's classification to a Schedule II. While Schedule II substances still have a high potential for abuse, dependence and addiction, there are fewer restrictions on research — an area in which cannabis and marijuana products have encountered many roadblocks.
The pharmaceutical drug company Insys waited two years for the approval of Syndros, an oral remedy containing THC; this week the DEA finally gave the okay. Syndros is approved to treat nausea and vomiting, which many cancer patients suffer during chemotherapy.
Kevin Gallagher, director of compliance in government affairs at Craft Concentrates and a boardmember of the Cannabis Business Alliance, notes that many cancer patients already use medical marijuana to help with the same conditions that Syndros targets.
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"When I was working [at a dispensary], I got to see a lot of cancer patients. These cancer patients really loved getting a mixture of CBD and THC — they would smoke it for immediate relief but take various edibles, tinctures, what have you, to really get their body feeling well," Gallagher says. "You get that body high. You get that body release. You get that pain relief. In my experience, with cancer patients, they would come in, and some would be in for the first time. They couldn't keep anything down, they're going through chemotherapy, and they try cannabis for the first time. They come back a few days later and you can see there's a smile on their face for the first time in however many weeks or months. They can actually start eating again. The nausea is much less severe, so you can really see how it really changed their lives."
He would watch as patients begin to attain some kind of normal life, even at the most difficult and trying time they'd experienced, Gallagher adds.
"These pharmaceutical companies still think they're going to win the battle in creating essentially fake cannabis and having to even compete with the real cannabis industry, but they're not looking at the effects of certain terpenes or certain cannabinoids," he says.
Another aspect of cannabis that Gallagher says pharmaceutical companies will never be able to control is home growing. Pharmaceutical-grade medicine can use very few of the substances that can be added to liquids, salves and food, or taken directly from the plant. But home growers can.
"They can just make a lot of these products at their homes," Gallagher points out. "They don't need to go to a doctor or go to a pharmacy to get a prescription. They can truly make a lot of this at home....This is a completely unique substance that is so readily available, and it's so easy to take advantage of its healing nature, so it'll be very interesting to see how that plays out."
While Gallagher watches how the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the cannabis industry evolves, Tom Angell, founder of the Marijuana Majority, has already identified an area where the two are already intersecting: He followed the money.
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In his daily newsletter, the Marijuana Moment, Angell notes that Insys donated half a million dollars to the campaign against legalizing marijuana in Arizona. Arizona was one of nine states with cannabis legalization on the ballot last November; it was the only one that didn't pass it. Insys is based in Arizona, he points out.
"It doesn't really surprise me.... It's typical big pharma," Gallagher says. "This pharmaceutical company also produces fentanyl. You can see where that company lies. They don't care at all about cannabis, right? This drug isn't even derived from cannabis; it's derived from dronabinol. It just seems like they're trying to compete to make a more concentrated form, so they don't want Arizona and other [states] to have legal cannabis because they don't want to compete with real cannabis. They just want patients to take their drug that was cooked up in a lab that has nothing to do with cannabis.
"As soon as you see that this company is making fentanyl, you can see [that] what they're more interested in is how many patents they can distribute the drug to and get a lot of money out of it," he adds. "They obviously don't care about a patient's health, because they're trying to continue prohibition in Arizona, and likely other states as well."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the final quote; it has been corrected. Our apologies for the error.