Those advocating for the
legalization of the natural, non-addictive cannabis plant face a new threat
from Big Pharma. For years, major pharmaceutical companies have fought against
marijuana legalization with generous corporate donations to politicians and
lobbyists to persuade them to keep cannabis illegal.
While popular support for legalization remains high — according to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis — the enormous amounts of money the pharmaceutical industry has to influence public policy has resulted in untold suffering on the part of those who could benefit from medical marijuana as well as the unfortunate souls languishing behind bars for possessing a few grams of the plant (1).
All medications trace their origins
to plants and animals, but the process of altering the chemical structure of
natural healing substances can lead to unforeseen side effects up to and
including death. Consider the fact that in the midst of the opioid epidemic,
relatively few people reported addiction to morphine, a more pure distillation of
the poppy plant. However, millions developed addictions to Vicodin, Oxycontin
and Fentanyl, drugs that underwent substantial chemical alterations, which
rendered them far more powerful and addictive.
The recent approval of a synthetic
form of THC by the DEA rubs salt in the wounds of patients who desperately need
natural cures, not addictive chemicals, and it demonstrates the despicable
hypocrisy of Big Pharma giants who know they make greater profits by keeping
people sick, not by making them well.
History of Synthetic THC
The ability of scientists to alter
the chemical composition of healing herbs and plants has existed for decades.
Indeed, any layperson with a solid education in chemistry (think Walter White
in Breaking Bad) can alter the chemical composition of substances. Simple
alterations in the preparation of healing herbs, such as creating a strong
tincture as opposed to a gentle tea, have existed since time immemorial.
An early form of synthetic THC, Marinol, was approved back in 1985 to treat nausea and vomiting among those undergoing chemotherapy (2). The drug also treated AIDS patients suffering from anorexia due to nausea.
Ironically enough, the latest kick in the chops the pharmaceutical industry has given suffering patients who prefer natural pain relief involves a drug containing the same active chemical, dronabinol, found in Marinol. Insys Therapeutics, the pharmaceutical giant who donated $500,000 to defeat the Arizona proposition legalizing medical marijuana use in the 2016 election, recently received approval from the DEA to produce and market Syndros, its own synthetic THC medication (3).
Insys Therapeutics has a long and
illustrious history of getting patients hooked on synthetic drugs and ruining
countless lives while basically walking around sporting Melania-esque “I don’t
really care, do U” jackets. The kicker? Insys Therapeutics is currently
under investigation at both the state and federal level for bribing doctors to
prescribe copious amounts of Fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic that’s 50 to 100
times more potent than morphine.
Under current Arizona law, medical cannabis remains legal. However, patients must jump through hoops to attain relief. Certification includes paying a state fee of $150 per year as well as a doctor’s fee, and patients must suffer from a qualifying condition, which excludes some people who may otherwise benefit from medical cannabis. For example, even though research indicates that marijuana reduces the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, no form of arthritis makes the list of qualifying conditions (4)
Greed Behind It All
So what explanation has the DEA
given to explain why Syndros gets the stamp of approval while medical cannabis
remains on Schedule 1? According to them, cannabis has no known medical use
even though a growing preponderance of the evidence suggests that it may heal
or alleviate suffering caused by diseases ranging from glaucoma to cancer.
One theory as to why medical
cannabis remains illegal centers around the fact that getting a drug approved
as safe by the FDA takes an enormous amount of money and time. Pharmaceutical
giants can afford to pay the FDA to expedite their applications for
approval. Additionally, while synthetic THC mimics only one active ingredient,
natural marijuana contains dozens of terpenes, substances that may account for
the way the raw herb outperforms its synthetic counterpart in relieving nausea
However, the primary reason
pharmaceutical companies spend billions each year lobbying to keep marijuana
illegal has nothing to do with the DEA, FDA or safety concerns. Big Pharma
opposes cannabis legalization for one selfish reason: They cannot profit off a
plant that patients can grow themselves. Pharmaceutical companies can
dictate exactly what they’ll charge for their lab-created THC. Pharmacy benefit
managers can set high price points, guaranteeing a sizable profit margin from
synthetic cannabis. But pharmaceutical companies cannot patent a plant.
Were cannabis legalized, many
patients could grow themselves a garden full of all the medicine they would
ever need for the price of investing in just a few seeds and growing equipment.
And given the superior curative power the real herb possesses over its
synthetic counterpart, Insys and other companies could watch the money they
invested in creating synthetic THC go down the proverbial drain. One recent
study indicates that Big Pharma would lose $4 billion annually from
cannabis legalization (6).
People Can Help Support True Legalization
Forcing people to suffer needlessly
simply to bolster pharmaceutical profits illustrates the moral depravity
inherent in a for-profit health care system. Those interested in helping to
bring about cannabis legalization can do so in several ways.
Start by contacting elected
representatives about marijuana legalization and pressure them to enact
legislation removing cannabis from Schedule 1. Write letters to the editors of
local papers expressing the importance of legalizing cannabis to improve health
outcomes for those suffering from various ailments. Join up with other
activists in the area and educate others about the healing properties medical
Given the severity of the opioid
epidemic, offering safer alternatives to treat chronic pain patients saves
lives. However, permitting pharmaceutical companies such as Insys to profit
from the power of medical cannabis while keeping the real substance illegal
represents the ultimate in hypocrisy and cruelty. Avarice should never stand
between patients in need and the medicine nature gave them for healing.