Medical marijuana laws benefit big business

 Greg Pivarnik – 3/4/08
Marijuana has medicinal uses. Despite numerous scientific studies and the development of synthetic medicines derived from cannabis, the United States government appears to disagree with
this statement. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug according to the DEA,
which only benefits the pharmaceutical companies who now have a monopoly on
the therapeutic effects of a plant that can be grown with little effort.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, the DEA lists and categorizes drugs, illegal and pharmaceutical, into five categories or schedules.
According to the DEA Web site, the drugs are placed in a schedule based upon “the substance’s medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or dependence liability.” Schedule I drugs are considered the
most addictive and have no medical use and are considered the most dangerous. Schedule II
drugs have some medical benefits but are highly addictive and so on until Schedule V. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD, because it has a “high potential for abuse” and “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Apparently though,
PCP and cocaine have more of a medical basis considering they are Schedule II drugs.

Unfortunately, the rescheduling of marijuana is something that may be far off in the future, despite research pointing to the possible benefits of medicinal use. Scientists studying its medicinal
properties have already found a number of possible medical uses. Most notably, marijuana can be used to treat pain and nausea associated with a number of diseases. It is mostly prescribed, in states that
allow for its medicinal use, for pain and nausea associated with terminal illnesses. Many times
marijuana has been found to be one of the more effective drugs to treat these symptoms. Extreme pain is
often associated with severe illnesses such as cancers, AIDS and multiple sclerosis (MS). Marijuana also reduces nausea associated with chemotherapy and AIDS patients. It stimulates appetite and
allows patients to eat so they do not lose an excessive amount of weight. Marijuana has been proven to be an effective treatment for neuropathic pain and can control muscle spasms in diseases like MS.

However, MS is not the only disease associated with neuropathic pain. There are many other diseases and disorders that can benefit from possible treatments of marijuana. Marijuana has also been found to
treat patients with glaucoma by relieving pressure in the eyeball and therefore possibly preventing the blindness associated with the disease. Lastly, there are also the well known calming affects of
marijuana that could be used to treat severe anxieties and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The main reason that marijuana remains illegal, or at least not used as medication, is money. Too many companies in the pharmaceutical industry stand to lose too much money from competing with medicinal marijuana. The Pharmaceutical companies do research, create a synthetically made chemical for a treatment of a certain disease and then patent. U.S. patents last around 20 years and
effectively give the company a monopoly on that drug. This in turn drives the price up
for many years after FDA approval, until the patent runs out and generic forms of the drug are made available. The reason that drug companies would not want marijuana manufactured is that it can been
grown cheaply and easily. It could effectively be a less costly alternative to the drug therapies that patients can access now and may treat myriad of disease that could infringe on the consumer
market of other medications.

The amount of money derived from the pharmaceutical industry, and hence the lobbyists that work for them, has led to an inherent hypocrisy in U.S. policy towards marijuana. While listing marijuana
as a Schedule I drug, which supposedly has no medical benefits, the U.S. still allows pharmaceutical companies to conduct research and make products that harness the medicinal powers of THC, the main
psychoactive chemical in marijuana. This already implies that marijuana has medicinal benefit and
therefore should not be listed as a Schedule I drug. One such drug, Marinol, is already available for
prescription use in the U.S. to treat the side effects associated with chemotherapy and AIDS patients. Another marijuana based drug, Sativex, which is used to treat MS, has already been approved in
Canada and has begun trials in the U.S.

It is unfair for the government to conduct a smear campaign against medicinal marijuana, while at
the same time allowing drug companies to purify it and market products for staggering amounts of profit.
For instance, the base cost per year of  Sativex in Canada $4,475. This price is only an estimate before pharmacy costs. On top of that, this estimate only takes into account a minimal amount of doses.
Sativex is a spray administered via the mouth. The average dosage is five sprays a day. However, the dosage is variable up to 14 sprays, which would also increase the costs.

There are those that would say it is beneficial for the drug companies to purify the drugs
because smoking marijuana is itself a health risk. A risk it may be, but taking any medicine is a risk. In
fact, an article in Scientific America esposed a study that concluded that there is no scientific link between lung cancer and smoking marijuana. It was thought that THC “prompts aging
cells to die before coming cancerous.” A more recent study has seemed to confirm this conclusion. In a lab study, mice with tumors were injected with THC and showed a 50 percent decrease in tumor size
after three weeks as compared with untreated mice. Though the studies are preliminary, they still
nonetheless cast doubt on long held myths in marijuana.

In the end the only beneficiaries of the current medicinal marijuana policy in the United States are the drug companies. Patients are forced to dole out money for a synthetic form of a medicine that
could be grown and obtained naturally and possibly far more cheaply.  Of course a side effect of smoking
marijuana is that one would get high. However, these side effects no different from warning labels on
other medications that indicate drowsiness and warn people against driving and operating heavy machinery. In turn, the question can be asked – What makes a synthetically made chemical safer and
more effective than a naturally growing plant?

There is a risk when taking any medication. There have been well-known cases in which people have
died taking prescription drugs. However, it is nearly impossible to overdose on marijuana.

In the end, the only difference between pharmaceutical marijuana and smoking marijuana is that pharmaceutical products create enormous amounts of revenue for big business, while
medicinal marijuana would only benefit the citizens of this country that are in dire need of
cheap and effective medication. And as always, the government sides with big business.

Weekly columnist Greg Pivarnik
is an 8th-semester molecular and cell
biology major. His columns appear on
Tuesdays. He can be contacted at

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