A British company, GW Pharma, is in advanced clinical trials for the world's first pharmaceutical developed from raw marijuana instead of synthetic equivalents— a mouth spray it hopes to market in the U.S. as a treatment for cancer pain. And it hopes to see FDA approval by the end of 2013.
Sativex contains marijuana's two best known components — delta 9-THC and cannabidiol — and already has been approved in Canada, New Zealand and eight European countries for a different usage, relieving muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.
FDA approval would represent an important milestone in the nation's often uneasy relationship with marijuana, which 16 states and the District of Columbia already allow residents to use legally with doctors' recommendations. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes pot as a dangerous drug with no medical value, but the availability of a chemically similar prescription drug could increase pressure on the federal government to revisit its position and encourage other drug companies to follow in GW Pharma's footsteps.
"There is a real disconnect between what the public seems to be demanding and what the states have pushed for and what the market is providing," said Aron Lichtman, a Virginia Commonwealth University pharmacology professor and president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. "It seems to me a company with a great deal of vision would say, 'If there is this demand and need, we could develop a drug that will help people and we will make a lot of money.'"
As broad as the market for medical cannabis products is currently, there are even more applications being researched which could significantly expand that market should Sativex gain approval. One example: Australia's National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre is researching use of Sativex as substitution therapy for to help cannabis addicts quit using. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Jan. 9, 2012 that:
SMOKERS have nicotine patches and heroin users have methadone but cannabis users have little choice except to go ''cold turkey'' if they want to kick their habit.
However, researchers at the University of NSW hope a cannabis-based mouth spray, prescribed to multiple sclerosis sufferers and not available in Australia, could be used to help people quit marijuana.
There are no products aimed at easing people off cannabis, the only option being rehabilitation where a cocktail of prescribed drugs is used to counteract withdrawal symptoms.
Here's a link to the NCPIC's news release on the research. According to NCPIC:
In a world-first, researchers from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC), based at the University of New South Wales, are leading a study to determine whether the pharmaceutical drug Sativex can help people better manage cannabis withdrawal symptoms as a platform for ongoing abstinence.
It is estimated that there are at least 200,000 people dependent on cannabis in Australia, with one in ten people who try the drug at least once in their lifetime having problems ceasing use.