Medical marijuana industry about to be cornered by drug companies, Sativex?

As we've reported in the past, a recent investment report coming out of Colorado pegged the size of the medical marijuana market at $1.7 billion, just under the amount generated annually by Viagra sales. That's enough moolah to catch the attention of the pharmaceutical companies, which appear to be quietly making moves to unleash a new prescription cannabis drug.

As first reported by the American Independent, the drug in question is Sativex. Manufactured by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals, Sativex is different from other marijuana substitutes like Marinol and K2, because it's not synthetic; it's a liquefied sativa extract that patients suffering from serious ailments such as multiple sclerosis or cancer spray place under their tongues. Like old-fashioned pot, Sativex contains both healthful cannabinoids and the psychoactive component THC -- although apparently the THC is limited enough that it will take quite the dose to get as high as say, smoking a joint.

Sativex is already for sale in Britain, and it will soon be hitting the shelves on all continents except ours -- but the drug seems destined for America, too. The Japanese company Otsuka has reached Phase III of U.S. clinical trials for Sativex, meaning the FDA has approved preliminary test results and the drug is closing in on reaching pharmacies.

The rise of Sativex and other prescription forms of pot could spell trouble for the marijuana legalization movement, warns the American Independent. After all, it's lucrative for the pharmaceutical industry to boast the only legal forms of marijuana, and the industry is clearly willing to leverage its multi-million dollar lobbying machine to keep it that way.

For a while, Sativex's manufacturer had on its payroll Dr. Andrea Barthwell, a former deputy drug czar who's lately been attacking medical marijuana because, unlike prescription drugs, it's not regulated by the feds. And Richard Burr, one of Congress' big opponents of medical marijuana laws, also happens to be the top beneficiary of pharmaceutical dollars.

Does that mean marijuana is destined to become as commercialized and mass-produced as, say, Ritalin? Likely not -- since nobody's going to want to celebrate 4/20 by dropping a few splashes of prescription extract under their tongue.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Pot legalization: Booze-fueled-sex-assault victim previews Women's Marijuana Movement event."

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