Why Big Pharma Hates Pot

The use of marijuana for medical purposes is now legal in 25 states and, as of this writing, two additional states (Arkansas and Florida) have pending legislation or ballot measures to legalize medical marijuana.1

Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults, while 16 states have decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses.2

According to estimates, between 85 and 95 percent of Americans are in favor of medical cannabis, and nearly 60 percent support complete legalization of marijuana. And, contrary to what you might think, doctors overwhelmingly agree.

A 2013 survey found a majority of physicians — 76 percent — approve of the use of medical marijuana.3 CNN’s chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta also made a highly publicized reversal on his marijuana stance after the production of his two-part series “Weed,” which aired in 2014.4

Despite this trend, many families are still unable, legally or otherwise, to obtain this herbal treatment. Families with a sick child are being forced to split up, just so that one parent can live in a place where medical cannabis can be legally obtained in order to help their child.

A major part of the problem lies at the federal level, where marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance5 — a category reserved for the most addictive and dangerous of drugs, including heroin and LSD.

Marijuana Does Not Meet Criteria for Schedule 1 Controlled Substances

According to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, Schedule 1 drugs are defined as those having a “high potential for abuse” and “no acceptable medical use in treatment.” Research to date shows that marijuana meets neither of these criteria. For example, studies have shown medical cannabis:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has spent the last five years deliberating whether it should reclassify marijuana to a Schedule 2 substance — a class that includes both cocaine and methamphetamines; dangerous drugs that nonetheless have some accepted medicinal use.

DEA Rejects Petition to Lower Classification of Marijuana

Earlier this month, the agency delivered its verdict: Marijuana will remain a Schedule 1 substance. As reported by Newsweek:6

“The decision is the DEA’s response to a 2011 petition by two former state governors who had urged federal agencies to reclassify marijuana as a drug with accepted medical uses.

In a letter to the petitioners, the DEA said it had asked the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] for a scientific and medical evaluation of the issue.

‘HHS concluded that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in the United States and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision,’ the letter said.”

This really challenges logic on many fronts. For starters, in October 2003, the HHS actually obtained a patent for marijuana as a “neural protectant,” claiming it can protect your brain against stroke and trauma.7

How can the HHS own a patent for the medical use of marijuana on the one hand, while concluding that “marijuana has no accepted medical use … and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision” on the other?

Current Scheduling of Marijuana Ignores Scientific Evidence

As noted by Carl L. Hart, Ph.D.,12 a researcher of behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs and the department chair of the psychology department at Columbia University:13

“[T]herapeutic benefits … have compelled citizens to vote repeatedly over the past two decades to legalize medical marijuana at the state level … And yet Federal law still technically forbids the use of medical marijuana …  

As a scientist and educator, I am worried that we have lost credibility … with those seeking treatments for a variety of medical conditions because our current scheduling of marijuana ignores the scientific and medical evidence.

When we make decisions based on factors other than the available empirical evidence, we are less than objective, which means we are no longer acting as scientists.”

Hart also points out that the glaring inconsistencies between the Federal law and so many other state initiatives — not to mention mounting scientific evidence demonstrating the medical benefits of cannabis — really undermines peoples’ trust in federal agencies.

I strongly concur, especially as it relates to the DEA, which really seems more interested in protecting the profits of prisons and drug companies than anything else.

Synthetic Pot Drugs Approved While Marijuana Remains Banned

Ironically, while acting DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg states that “no drug product made from marijuana has yet been shown to be safe and effective,” he admits that two synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) medicines — Marinol and Cesamer — have recently received FDA approval for sale as, you guessed it, patented drugs.

Rosenberg took over as acting director of the DEA in May 2015, taking over the role after scandals drove out Michele Leonhart.18Leonhart was harshly criticized for opposing the legalization of marijuana, yet Rosenberg is following in the exact same footsteps.19

Earlier this year, Rosenberg even referred to the concept of medical marijuana as “a joke.” Somehow, I don’t think the manufacturers of these synthetic THC drugs would agree with him. In fact, the very approval of these drugs should be sufficient to prove marijuana has medical applications. Why else would they be approved for the treatment of nausea? These synthetic THC drugs are listed as Schedule 3 and 2 respectively, meaning they have acknowledged medicinal value.

THC is a subclass of cannabinoids, the general category of active chemical compounds found in marijuana. Cannabidiols (CBD) is another subclass.20 Cannabinoids produce biological effects because, just like opiates interacting with your opiate receptors, cannabinoids interact with specific receptors located in your cell membranes.

The therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when particular cannabinoids activate their associated receptors, and the effects depend on the areas of your body and brain in which they interact. Some cannabinoids are psychoactive, whereas others are not. THC is the most psychoactive, the one that produces the “high” associated with smoking pot.

Why Are DEA and HHS Ignoring Human Endocannabinoid System?

Cannabinoid receptors can be found on cell membranes throughout your body — in fact, scientists now believe they may represent the most widespread receptor system in the human body.21 Two receptor types have been identified:

  • CB1: Cannabinoid receptors that are extremely prolific in your brain (excluding your brain stem), but also present in your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and other parts of your body
  • CB2: Cannabinoid receptors primarily found in your immune system

Your endocannabinoid system is thought to help regulate nearly every physiological process and plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis, and yet this is not taught in medical school. We’ve shared this important system with all vertebrate species and even sea squirts for more than 600 million years. Science to date suggests that your endocannabinoid system is integral to the following biological processes, and chances are we’ve barely scratched the surface.22

Immune function Inflammation (especially tamping it down) Energy intake and storage
Appetite control and cravings Nutrient transport Cellular communication
Emotional balance Reproduction Pain sensation
Sleep Bone growth Memory

Why Big Pharma Hates Pot

Were marijuana decriminalized nationwide, the drug industry clearly would take a big hit. Not only would people have access to a far less expensive, more effective and natural version of the synthetic CBD and THC drugs currently selling at a premium, many would also turn to marijuana to relieve their aches, pains, nausea, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and more.

The sad fact is that drug companies are fighting to shut down the legalization of marijuana in order to maintain their drug monopoly. For starters, the opioid painkiller market would be severely threatened by marijuana legalization.

Narcotic painkillers have been identified as the new gateway drug to heroin, and even government officials have publicly acknowledged that these drugs have become the No. 1 drug problem in the U.S., addicting and killing people in record numbers. More than 28,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2014 — more deaths than any other year on record according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).23

The number includes deaths from both heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers, but the latter accounted for at least half. Yet little is being done to curb their use. Instead, agencies like the DEA, FDA and HHS are fighting against marijuana! It’s illogical at best. Then again, profit has nothing to do with logic, and this is how you know that many federal agencies have ceased working for the public good.

Drug Companies Downplay Addictive Nature of Opioids

The attorney general of New Hampshire, Joseph Foster, is trying to prove five drug companies — Actavis, Endo, Janssen, Teva and Purdue Pharma — broke the law when they marketed their opioid painkillers. He believes false marketing has contributed to rising abuse of illicit drugs like heroin. According to Foster, these companies are stifling his investigation and refusing to cooperate with the state’s attorneys. In a recent NPR program, Foster said:25

“If they are continuing to mislead the public, we’re going to continue to improperly create addicts in our state. Four out of 5 folks who turned to heroin were addicted to prescription opiates first.”

Chicago, two California counties and Mississippi have already filed lawsuits against one or more of the same companies currently under investigation in New Hampshire. James Boffetti, New Hampshire’s lead attorney on the case told NPR:

“We’re in a mess. You know, we have a country that’s addicted to opioids that move to heroin. So we need to solve this problem, and part of it is we need to figure out what the drug companies did, if anything, to create this problem … [But] I’ve yet to receive one piece of paper from any of these drug companies. And you’ve got to ask yourself, why? Why are they fighting so hard?”


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