During the twentieth century, cannabis underwent a kind of transformation. The substance itself did not change but perceptions about it were radically altered. It morphed from cannabis, the helpful medicinal, to marijuana, the dangerous drug. Medicinal cannabis has been with us for thousands of years, used since ancient times as a treatment for an astonishing variety of complaints from glaucoma to inflammation, asthma, arthritis and depression. Only in very recent history has it been labelled as harmful and addictive.
20th Century Cannabis Restrictions
In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act was introduced as the first federal effort at regulating the formulation and distribution of opiates. Prior to this, there were no illegal drugs. Cannabis was almost included in the act but it was actually the pharmaceutical industry that prevented this because advocates said it was not habit-forming. When the 1937 Cannabis tax was proposed, it was the American Medical Association that opposed it, to no avail. By 1971, cannabis was well and truly condemned as an illegal and addictive substance with its inclusion in the Controlled Substances Act. A year later, it was provisionally placed as a schedule I drug, the most restrictive of the drug schedules, reserved for drugs with no medicinal value at all and the ones with the highest potential for abuse.
The Governments Medical Cannabis Contradictions
Medicinal cannabis is still schedule I, which means as far as federal law is concerned, it has no redeeming qualities. Yet the US government has a patent (#6630507) for…the medicinal use of cannabinoids from cannabis as antioxidants and neuro-protectants. Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed pharmaceutical companies to develop synthetic forms of THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, such as Marinol and Cesamet, schedule II and III respectively, and approved them for medicinal use. It beggars belief that artificial drugs modeled on cannabis can gain approvals that require the government to acknowledge medical utility but the ban remains on the plant they modeled the drugs on. Unless you follow the money.
Big Pharma Enters the Medical Marijuana Market
Last year, Insys Therapeutics donated $500,000 to oppose Prop 205 in Arizona. In a prepared statement, their reason for opposing the initiative to legalize cannabis was: “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.” Not six months later, this same company announced the launch of their synthetic cannabinoid Syndros. Can you say hypocrisy? Insys markets Syndros as the “first FDA approved cannabinoid to treat treat anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS, and nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy.”
Insys also manufactures Subsys, the oral spray of the opioid fentanyl, a painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine and heroin, reserved for cancer patients with intractable pain. It is schedule II. On the day President Trump announced a nationwide public health emergency over the opioid crisis, John Kapoor, founder of Insys, was arrested by federal agents and charged with bribery, criminal conspiracy, and fraud. He and other Insys executives stand accused of amplifying the opioid epidemic by offering doctors hefty sums to promote and prescribe the dangerous and addictive drug Subsys to non-cancer patients.
This is but one example of the pervasive influence of Big Pharma. Medical marijuana is probably one of the biggest threats to their obscene profiteering from prescription opioids at the expense of patients and the reason why Pharma is the most vociferous adversary of legalized medicinal cannabis. Pharma may have won some battles but medical marijuana is proving to be such an effective alternative to toxic drugs like opioids, we are hopeful it will eventually win the war.
Dr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist, also certified to treat addiction. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical in Manhattan, New Hyde Park and Syosset, helping many of them to wean off of prescription opioids. He is the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association. He can be reached at [email protected]