Big Pharma is currently losing potential profit in states that have already legalized medical marijuana. Research from the University of Georgia shows that prescription medication use is down in states with established medical marijuana programs. The average doctor in these states prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year of the study, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses, and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. However, it was pain medication that was hardest hit, seeing an average of 1,826 fewer doses in medical marijuana states.
People growing their own marijuana is a significant concern to Big Pharma. As state legalization of cannabis-derivatives spreads, the drug companies contemplating the potential of medical marijuana see a threat from both homegrown and professionally harvested medical-grade marijuana. Pharma offers quality control and deep testing but experience shows that research and development adds to customer cost. Given the facts and the perception you have to wonder if…
… Big Pharma is for or against legalizing marijuana?
Pharmaceutical company Insys spent $500,000 to block legalization in Arizona. Five months later it won approval for a cannabis-derived medical drug
Big Pharma is currently losing potential profit in states that have already legalized medical marijuana. Research from the University of Georgia shows that prescription medication use is down in states with established medical marijuana programs. The average doctor in these states prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year of the study, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses, and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. However, it was pain medication that was hardest hit, seeing an average of 1,826 fewer doses in medical marijuana states. Pharmaceutical companies take shelter in the DEA’s listing of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin. As long as the DEA effectively prohibits marijuana medical research, Big Pharma can take the moral high road. The Schedule 1 designation severely limits needed research into the medical efficacy of cannabis-derivatives.
A lot of money always attracts a lot interest. Big Pharma wants the revenues that marijuana promises but concede market forces threaten their interests. Big Pharma can’t getting its biggest slice of the pie with individuals and licensed producers harvesting cannabis, not to mention the the black market that continues to thrive.
Ben Cohen, insists it’s all about money. He writes, “For years, large corporations and well-heeled lobbyists have blocked the legalization of marijuana for medical use or recreational use in order to protect their own profits.”
There’s no reason to expect this to stop.
While many pharmaceutical companies have openly lobbied against cannabis legalization, others have gone further and donated large sums to fight legalization. Insys Therapeutics, Inc., the makers of fentanyl, donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, an anti-cannabis group, to successfully oppose legalization in Arizona in 2016. Fentanyl, touted to be 50 times more potent than morphine, is best known for contributing to Prince’s overdose death. With the potential loss of revenue from marijuana, companies like Insys have a vested interest in preventing marijuana from becoming legal.
The Insys case provides a stark illustration of what cannabis leaders say is the unethical and harmful position of the pharmaceutical industry in marijuana – fighting to block a plant that in some cases has proven to be an effective, safer and cheaper alternative to addictive prescription drugs.
On March 23rd, Insys received approval from the DEA for the rescheduling and development of its synthetic cannabinoid spray Syndros. Because of its synthetic nature, its newly approved medicinal value to chemo patients does not apply to organic cannabis.
But the approval of Syndros is troubling for another reason: Insys’ history. Their last attempt at a cancer-oriented medication landed the CEO and other top officials in court when it was discovered that the company faked the medical records of their patients in order to obtain insurance coverage. For four years the company worked with doctors to prescribe their medication to patients who didn’t need it.
Big pharma is lobbying against legalization, on the purported grounds of safety, but in reality, they are just buying time to create their own synthetic cannabis medicines,” said Alan Hirsch, CEO of Diagnostic Lab Corporation, a cannabis safety and science company. “Several biotech companies have started creating cannabinoid chemistry from rice or yeast, but eventually, these medicines will be manufactured by Big Pharma in Schedule 1 facilities.”
But not all pharma companies have the reputation of Insys or are seeking to work against the cannabis community. “It’s unfortunate that there seems to be a zero-sum game here,” Says Stephen Schultz of GW Pharmaceuticals, “Our objective is to provide an additional option.”
GW have been working within the industry since 1998 when two doctors in the UK decided to explore the medical benefits of cannabis. These companies implement compassionate care programs that offer medicine to patients at no charge. They also provide plant-based pharmaceuticals like Sativex, a Multiple Sclerosis medication, which has been approved in 30 countries. The company’s current focus is an epilepsy treatment called Epidiolex which is largely CBD derived and is still going through the FDA approval process.
The Future Of Cannabis Medicines
Although the DEA recently rejected requests to reschedule cannabis out of Schedule I, the classification saved for the most dangerous drugs, the agency’s new policies have opened the door for increased research into the plant to examine its medicinal potential.It will be medical research that eventually solidifies the pathway of further cannabis-based drugs to FDA approval. It is unlikely that the FDA will ever endorse smokeable or edible whole plant marijuana as medicine, and instead, pharmaceutical companies will have to follow the traditional path to new drug designation, including intense clinical research to prove safety and efficacy. The FDA has already approved cannabis-based drugs in the past. Once approved, the drug itself is then classified separately from whole plant marijuana. For example, Marinol, a synthetic THC medication, is classified as a Schedule III drug, and is available by prescription for cancer and AIDS patients.