Is Big Pharma Trying to Take All the Fun out of Pot?
Continued from previous page
The Medical Possibilities of Cannabis
Meanwhile, numerous academic researchers are uncovering myriad medical possibilities for cannabis and the cannabinoids. In one study released in the last year, researchers at Complutense University in Madrid found that THC caused brain-cancer cells to destroy themselves.
At the University of Erlangen in Germany, a CB2-receptor agonist reduced the dermal thickening and fibrosis found in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, and it also diminished the damage done by lowered blood supply to the brain in an animal model of stroke.
A Canadian military psychiatrist said that nabilone reduced or eliminated nightmares in 34 of the 47 post-traumatic stress syndrome patients he studied.
The University of California at San Diego is currently investigating whether vaporized cannabis can help relieve diabetic neuropathic pain.
Medical-marijuana advocates maintain that whole-plant drugs will be the most effective. Research has shown that the synergy of multiple cannabinoids works better than any single molecule in the plant, argues Caren Woodson of Americans for Safe Access.
"The strongest drug isn't necessarily the best," adds the anonymous researcher. The body's systems are subtle and need "a gentle nudge, not a big shove," he argues, and potent synthetic molecules are more likely to be toxic than substances people have used for thousands of years. The liver, he says, will have a hard time processing "a hairy molecule with lots of fluorine and side chains."
The profit system puts the pure cannabis herb at a disadvantage. Drug companies are not going to put time and money into a substance they can't patent, notes Woodson. On the other hand, they can patent tinctures, methods of extraction, and vaporizers -- which boil the THC into an inhalable steam instead of burning the herb into a toxic smoke.
Those means of drug administration are also more likely to satisfy the medical community's anathema to smoking and its desire for precise, standardized doses.
Woodson suspects that the focus on synthetic cannabinoids may be a "backdoor way" to deny approval of medical marijuana. On the other hand, she notes, the FDA has approved four Phase I studies of smoked marijuana for pain relief in HIV-AIDS patients, and the state of California is funding them. At this point, she says, "anything that gets the FDA one step closer to approving cannabis" is a good thing.
"We could be looking at the aspirin of the 21st century," she says, but it's not going to happen until "pharmaceutical companies can investigate it in the same way that they investigate any other drug."
Steven Wishnia is a New York-based journalist and musician. The author of Exit 25 Utopia and The Cannabis Companion , he has won two New York City Independent Press Association awards for his coverage of housing issues. He is looking for a job.