A recent development in pain management goes beyond nonsensical and into the realm of downright cruel.The DEA has approved a synthetic version of cannabis as safe for medical use, while millions of people of all ages languish behind bars for minor cannabis possession. Research indicates that altering the chemical structure of cannabis can produce dangerous reactions in users. Meanwhile, continuous medical evidence shows the benefits of medical cannabis, but it remains a Schedule I drug. This move clearly indicates that America truly has its priorities confused.
Cannabis has been used medicinally throughout history for good reason. It treats chronic pain while users can remain free from the danger of accidental overdose — something that is very much a risk with opioid-based medications. Better yet, cannabis grows relatively easily, meaning if it were legal, patients could grow their own medication. That’s something Big Pharma has an avaricious need to prevent. Keeping cannabis illegal while allowing pharmaceutical giants to release synthetic forms of the plant constitutes what some are calling a human rights crisis.
Potential Dangers of Synthetic Cannabis
Synthetic cannabis has existed for some time, as chemists have long tried to replicate cannabis’s unique chemical structure. While this sounds relatively easy on the surface, those attempting to clone all 480 ingredients, 65 of which are cannabinoids, meet little success. To date, no one truly knows how all the ingredients in natural cannabis combine, and making even minor changes in chemical structure can produce different, sometimes dangerous, physiological changes.
Before law enforcement agencies came together to ban it, spice — or synthetic cannabis — flew off store shelves, as it doesn’t trigger a positive result for cannabis on a basic urinary test for drugs. However, users soon began exhibiting unusual physical symptoms and side effects.
In March of 2018, 14-year-old Luke Pennington died after suffering a severe reaction to spice at a sleepover. He marks the youngest U.K. resident dying from this chemical substance. In April of 2018, two Chicago residents died from allergic reactions to spice, and 54 other individuals have required hospital treatment for heavy gastrointestinal bleeding.
Does this mean synthetic cannabis created by reputable pharmaceutical companies may cause similar side effects and even deaths? No one can predict the future, but history indicates that altering the chemical structure of cannabis creates unknown reactions. Researchers simply fail to understand yet how the ingredients in cannabis interact to prevent adverse outcomes.
Why Does Real Cannabis Stay on Schedule 1?
Cannabis currently remains classified as a Schedule 1 substance under federal law in the U.S. Substances falling into this category presumably have highly addictive properties and no recognized medical benefits. Advocates of medical cannabis quickly recognize the inherent hypocrisy of this classification.
Physicians licensed to prescribe medical cannabis in legalized states tout the benefits, especially regarding the opioid crisis. Dr. Syed Husain, an orthopedic specialist at New York-based medical facility, Regional Orthopedics, provided Cannabis Culture with his thoughts on cannabis and its use amid the opioid crisis:
“I have been prescribing medical cannabis to patients for the past three years and have seen great results for patients in need of substantial pain relief, oftentimes just with the use of medical marijuana alone. It can be used to treat patients who are opioid naive, patients hoping to avoid starting opioids or for patients who do not respond well to opioids. For patients who are already on opioids, it can also be used in conjunction with opioids to help reduce the total amount of opioids to safer levels. Oftentimes, it can eliminate the need to take other medications altogether.”
Despite continuous medical evidence of the benefits of cannabis, the DEA continues to demonstrate an amazing level of hypocrisy by approving synthetic cannabis but refusing to remove the plant itself from Schedule I. If cannabis truly had no recognized health benefits, then why would pharmaceutical companies attempt to make a synthetic version of the active ingredients found within? For that matter, why did so many prescription and over-the-counter pain remedies contain cannabis as one of the principal ingredients prior to it becoming illegal?
Cannabis lacks the negative withdrawal feelings experienced by those weaning themselves off of opioids. Users can safely quit cannabis cold turkey, even though they may become slightly irritable for a while. It remains unclear if Syndros would cause physical addiction, unlike natural cannabis. However, Insys doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to maintaining just and fair practices.
Top executives at Insys stand accused of using unethical marketing practices, including bribing doctors to prescribe their products and defrauding insurance companies. In addition, John Kapoor, Insys’ founder, faces multiple lawsuits from those who have lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic, focusing in upon Subysys, a spray version of the potent and often deadly narcotic, Fentynal.
The U.S. government’s continued war on natural cannabis, while subsequently showing support for nefarious Big Pharma giants, only results in further discrimination against the most vulnerable: America’s poor.
The Economics of Natural Cannabis
Pharmaceutical companies know full well the healing benefits of natural cannabis. Even as they acknowledge the benefits, they nevertheless continue to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups opposing the legalization of cannabis.
Pharmaceutical companies can’t profit off cannabis-based medications when the real thing costs far less and works significantly better. In addition, real cannabis, like any plant, provides the seeds needed to grow the next generation, meaning smart growers could invest in just one plant and, over time, end up with several. When comparing the cost of cannabis to that of other pharmaceuticals, it is significantly less expensive. If it were it legalized everywhere, prices could drop even further due to the need to stay competitive in the marketplace.
According to one estimate, should all 50 states legalize cannabis, the pharmaceutical industry would lose $4 billion annually. To counter this loss, pharmaceutical companies such as Insys Therapeutics have experimented with synthetic forms of the active ingredients in cannabis, which they can then sell at prices far greater than the price of even a full ounce of cannabis. An ounce of cannabis costs approximately $200 at most dispensaries, while Insys proposes charging $2,000 per month for Syndros, its synthetic THC medication.
How Can We Move Forward?
A solid majority of Americans — 62 percent — believe the government should legalize cannabis use. On a larger scale, refusing to legalize cannabis across the board while allowing pharmaceutical companies to make money off synthetic versions of this healing plant demonstrates that America cares for profit over patient health. This depressing reality is further reinforced by the fact that so many Americans have had their lives shattered over nonviolent cannabis possession.
The DEA should immediately remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs. Police should cease enforcement action on simple cannabis possession. In addition, all inmates currently doing time for cannabis possession should be released and their records expunged so they may rejoin their families and society without a criminal record.
Cannabis can treat a multitude of conditions, from anxiety to migraines, and even cancer. Mother Nature created this plant as a gift to humankind to help them heal when injured or sick. The laws of man should never supersede this purpose, and no one should face punishment for treating themselves with nature’s medicine.