This is my first blog post. I figured I would tackle an issue that’s been stuck in my craw for a long time.
Currently cannabis (I prefer this term over marijuana with all the negative racial history that accompanies it) is in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. This is the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs which have “no currently accepted medical use.” The immediate problem with this categorization by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is that it is in direct conflict with two other bodies of the United States government. It’s hard enough to trust the government, but even harder when you have to decide which specific agency to trust.
These two bodies are the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 1985 the FDA approved Marinol and Cesamet. Both of these drugs contain synthetically prepared tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the primary active ingredient in cannabis. Synthetically prepared means that the substance is created through a route of synthesis from some precursor, rather than being extracted from a natural source, in this case the plant Cannabis Sativa.
Marinol is currently in Schedule 3. It was rescheduled from Schedule 2 to Schedule 3 by the DEA in 1999. Schedule 3 means that the drug has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. According to the Drug Czar at the time Barry McCaffrey, “this action will make Marinol, which is scientifically proven to be safe and effective for medical use, more widely available.”
In 2003, the US Government as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services filed for, and was awarded a patent on cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants- US Patent 6630507. In granting the patent, the USPTO certified that cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties which make them useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.
The mission of the DEA is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States. It is a criminal justice agency responsible for enforcement of the law much like the FBI. The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human drugs and other products. The USPTO grants patents only on inventions or discoveries that are both novel and useful.
The DEA is purely a law enforcement agency-the brawn, while the FDA and USPTO are the brains deciding on whether something is useful and or safe. So who should we listen to? Should we listen to the DEA who says that THC in its natural state has no currently accepted medical use, while the exact same compound created synthetically has a currently medical accepted use? Should we listen to the FDA and the USPTO which both say that THC is both useful enough to warrant being approved as a drug and granted patent protection?
To further disturb this conundrum is the drug Sativex which is currently approved in Canada, New Zealand and eight European countries. Sativex is distinct from all other synthetically prepared cannabinoids currently available because it is derived from cannabis plants, rather than a solely synthetic process. The drug is a pharmaceutical product standardized in composition, formulation, and dose, although it is still effectively a tincture of the cannabis plant. Its principal active cannabinoid components are THC and cannabidiol (CBD). GW Pharma owns the drug (marketed by Bayer in the UK) which is used as a mouth spray. It hopes to market the drug as a treatment for cancer pain and it hopes to see FDA approval by the end of 2013.
It’s bad enough that our government is saying that the compound THC synthetically created is medically useful, but THC extracted from natural sources has no medical use. However, if the FDA does approve the drug Sativex it will be saying that THC in its natural state has a currently accepted medical use while the DEA will be saying that THC in its natural state has no accepted medical use. WTF?! Has any agency in the US government even taken in to consideration the fact that the human body produces endocannabinoids in the brain and in mother’s milk?
This faulty line of reasoning is how we end up with the fact that every person present in the USA is guilty of felony possession of a schedule 1 substance: dimethyltryptamine (DMT) – a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the human brain. So exogenous DMT (produced outside the body including your friend’s body or the over hundreds of plants and all mammals that contain DMT) is illegal but endogenous DMT (produced inside the body-think endorphins (endogenous morphines)) is legal?
One our greatest founding fathers-Thomas Jefferson has some good advice for us on the subject. “If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
Amen brother, amen.