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.
A Brief 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)
The 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 and vomiting.
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).
How 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 marijuana offers.
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.