Pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, the major financial supporter behind opponents to marijuana legalization in Arizona last year, received preliminary approval from the DEA for a synthetic marijuana drug. Cannabis and pharma are good friends: but only under the right circumstances.
Front page news for synthetic cannabinoid
Insys’ former CEO, has been making headlines quite often lately. Not for breakthrough medical treatment, but for shady deals and FBI arrests. The Washington Post recently reported on the company and its dealings.
The drug, Syndros is a synthetic version of THC, the compound in cannabis varieties that are used for ‘getting high,’ to treat nausea, weight loss, and vomiting in AIDS and cancer patients. The FDA approval last summer placed Syndros, and the generic version of it in the Schedule 2 bracket of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), being risky as a potential substance for abuse. Morphine, cocaine and many prescription painkillers share the same ranking.
The cannabis plant retains a Schedule 1 classification, defined as having no medical value and high potential for abuse.
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Openly opposed legalization
Recent events highlight the conflict between natural cannabis and pharma. Last year, before the elections, Arizona voted to establish the legal standing of marijuana in the state. The Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy group received a $500,000 donation from Insys Therapeutics to oppose the legalization of marijuana. The amount accounted for 10% of funds raised by the group, which succeeded in its campaign.
Insys has been an active influencer of marijuana policies since 2011 when the company expressed its opposition to naturally derived THC restrictions being relaxed. It appealed to the DEA, saying that the potential for abuse would be great if marijuana crops are cultivated in the US.
Cannabis and pharma: petition to allow synthetic CBD
In 2016, the company presented the DEA with a petition to slacken constraints on synthetic CBD. The company currently has a pediatric epilepsy drug in the pipeline.
It seems the spokesperson for the campaign to legalize marijuana in Arizona was right when he said it looks like Insys is trying to undermine the medical marijuana market. Instead, the company is trying to corral cannabinoids for its own financial gain. At the time, Insys claimed it was trying to protect Arizona citizens and especially the children of the state.
Insys has also been the subject of various investigations by the FBI. Shareholders have been in the spotlight over the aggressive marketing of fentanyl, a potentially fatal substance used in opioid painkillers. A former CEO and several executives were arrested for fraud and for paying kickbacks.
Apart from developing Syndros and other synthetic cannabis products, the company is also developing a treatment for opioid overdose.
It is sad to see cannabis becoming subjected to the ugly side of Pharma. Insys created an opioid problem then created the solution. Synthetic cannabinoids such as THC or CBD can be patented and owned, whereas the cannabis plant can’t. Ascorbic acid produced in a lab is not really the same as eating an orange, is it? In the end, patients will have to decide for themselves what is best for them.