British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals has developed a medical marijuana drug called Sativex. The drug is delivered orally via a spray pump, and is the first of its kind to be produced by extracting high-inducing cannabinoids like THC (pot's primary psychoactive ingredient) from the cannabis plant itself.
GWPharma is slated to wrap up clinical trials of the drug in 2014, at which point the company is expected to seek approval from the U.S. FDA for its administration to cancer patients. The fact that the drug contains THC, however, has led some people to conclude that it would be used not just for medical purposes, but recreational ones as well. This concern is entirely irrelevant. Here's why.
Over on Scientific American, Rachael Rettner has written a piece that claims that the possibility for Sativex abuse is slim. The primary line of reasoning goes as follows:
- Sativex is delivered orally.
- The fact that the drug is delivered through ingestion rather than smoking means it would take longer to have an effect, while simultaneously eliminating many of the cultural and ritualistic practices that go along with smoking pot (like passing a joint or a pipe).
- Because drug users seeking a high are not willing to wait for the effects of ingested THC to kick in, and rituals cannot be replicated with the spray, there is little potential for Sativex abuse.
Nevermind the fact that plenty of people regularly choose to consume cannabinoids orally over inhalation. Nevermind the fact that some people would likely choose ingestion over smoking because of the delayed onset of the drug's high.
Instead, focus on the fact that a prescription's potential for abuse is one of the least important factors you can possibly consider when determining whether or not a drug like Sativex should receive FDA approval. Drug abuse — specifically prescription drug abuse — is rampant in the States. The NIH estimates that 20 percent of people in the U.S. have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons, and that number is on the rise. The prescription drugs in question? Narcotic painkillers (i.e. opiates), sedatives, and stimulants. That includes hydrocodone (Vicodin), methadone (Dolophine), morphine, oxycodone (Percocet), alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and methylphenidate (Ritalin) — to name a few.
Focus on the fact that Sativex has already been approved in the UK, Spain, Canada, and New Zealand to treat muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis, and could be used to supplement the treatment of patients suffering from cancer-induced nerve damage (it's worth pointing out that in the US, Sativex would be prescribed to cancer patients whose pain had not been adequately relieved by treatment with strong opioids like Vicodin).
Focus on the fact that Marijuana is a relatively safe drug, especially compared to many of the other prescriptions mentioned earlier. When asked to describe a worst-case scenario involving a Sativex "overdose," Margaret Haney — a professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University — told Rettner that "the person could get very uncomfortably intoxicated," but that when it came to serious health effects, there were none that she knew of. Overdose on hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, alprazolam, and countless other prescription drugs, and you die.
Would Americans abuse a marijuana mouth spray? You bet your ass we would. Should anybody be concerned about this, given this country's extensive abuse of countless other more dangerous and addictive drugs? Absolutely not.
Top image via GWPharma