Several days ago I saw a news article about medical marijuana being legalized in France, and I eagerly clicked on the link only to learn that medical marijuana was NOT legalized in France- Sativex was.
I explored other news stories and found a similar theme in several articles. The authors were equating the distribution of Sativex with the legalized use of medical marijuana. Comments on these articles often contained some bitter bickering between proponents of the plant and supporters of the notion that the chemical compound Sativex is equivalent to cannabis.
Sativex is the European trade name for a chemical compound called Nabiximol, a pharmaceutical product created only for prescription-based use by GW Pharmaceuticals. They grow vast quantities of cannabis in England to create the drug. Nabiximol is distributed in Europe by Bayer Schering Pharma, where it costs approx. 4 Euros per day to use; it is marketed and distributed in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with some exceptions, by Novartis. It has been distributed to 29 countries at least, including some where its use is not controlled by prescription regulations. It is distinctly different from Marinol, a product that imitates the effects of cannabis compounds but does not actually contain chemicals derived from marijuana.
Nabiximol is a chemical compound delivered by oral spray and is often recommended for multiple sclerosis and to control neuropathic pain and spasticity. According to Wikipedia, “The drug is a pharmaceutical product standardised in composition, formulation, and dose, although it is still effectively a tincture of the cannabis plant.” It is a tincture lacking the full spectrum of 60+ cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, having been refined to contain only a few.
But does that make Sativex equivalent to medical marijuana? That depends on your definition of medical marijuana- and your definition of corn.
Marijuana is a plant that grows in the ground. If you take the flowers of that plant, dry them out and add nothing to them, you have smokable marijuana. If you take the green, growing leaves, stems and immature flowering buds and run them through a juicer you have raw cannabis juice. The stalk can be used for animal food or ground into high-quality fiber stock.
You can steep the flowers in alcohol, agave or glycerin and create a tincture. Through heating, chemicals from the flowers transfer into the liquid medium which is then cooled and sipped- or, in the case of Sativex, sprayed. Cannabis tincture is considered to be a medical marijuana product.
Corn is a plant that grows in the ground. If you take the ears from the plant and add nothing to them, you have eatable corn. The stalks have some uses commercially. To create high-fructose corn syrup, you take the eatable ears, mash them up, extract from them the good stuff, chemically refine it, add some vitamins and preservatives and then toss it in a package for food companies to use. At least that’s what I saw on tv.
When does corn stop becoming corn and start becoming high fructose corn syrup? When additional chemicals are added, any chemical compound becomes a compound of a different name. Corn mash is a corn compound; adding a chemical to extract out the fructose turns the mash into something different, a corn slurry with a different chemical composition. The addition of preservatives and additives make it a new compound yet again. The substance those ears has become can never just be called ‘corn’ again.
So a tincture is not medical marijuana- it is a compound that contains the medical benefits of marijuana. Or is it? Michigan law defines marijuana as not only the plant but all the salts, esters (what the heck is that, anyway?) and compounds created from it. That’s the rule they use when the cops confiscate your medibles. Tinctures like Sativex contain the essential components of marijuana and therefore are legally considered to be marijuana. In Michigan, if the person holding the tincture bottle has a registration card from the MMP, it is medical marijuana.
Can something be two things at once? For example, if a minor is registered in the MMP and is holding a bottle of alcohol-based tincture, is he a minor is possession of alcohol? Are the parents that gave him the medical marijuana compound guilty of providing alcohol to a minor, or contributing to the delinquency of a minor? Can that bottle in his hand be considered legal medicine, and illegal booze, at the same time?
Sativex has the same concerns. Once licensed for distribution in America by the FDA, it will be marketed in all 50 states by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, which acquired the rights to market and distribute the drug throughout the USA. But wait- how can that be? Sativex is both marijuana and medicine. All 50 states consider the salts, esters and compounds of marijuana to be marijuana, so how could Sativex ever become available to anyone in those 31 states without medical marijuana laws? Will the doctors be charged like drug dealers? Does the FDA have the power to overrule the DEA? Did France actually legalize medical marijuana when they legalized Sativex?
The answers lie in the definition of “legalizing medical marijuana”. In America we identify marijuana as the smokable form of the plant- which 19 states have decided has medical benefits. Non-smokable forms of cannabis flowers have medical benefits too, but it’s fair to say they were not popularized when the 19 states voted on their laws. Since there is no acceptable form of prescription-based pharmaceutical analog for marijuana, every use of the term medical marijuana in the US for forty years or more has been in reference to the smokable form of cannabis.
When journalists say Sativex is “legalized medical marijuana” they are both incorrect and functionally deceptive. It would be more correct to say “legalized medical marijuana product”, but in fact if it was a marijuana product it would, by definitions of the Controlled Substances Act, be illegal. Or is it? Sativex is entering Phase III trials in the United States, and is quickly charging toward FDA approval- and toward the pharmaceutical counters in all 50 states. Can Sativex be two things at once- both an illegal marijuana product and a medicine, too?
Many have wondered what Obama will do, if anything, about the medical marijuana issue during his presidency. Hell, we ALL have wondered what he’s doing (other than filling jail cells) but perhaps the image is more clear. When Sativex is ready to hit the market Obama will announce that he’s dropping cannabis to Schedule 2, which he will see as a triumph and the marijuana community will see as betrayal. He can go on record as the man that legalized medical marijuana without actually legalizing medical marijuana. The DEA can continue to act as they always have, the Justice Department can keep on prosecuting, no treaties have to be reworked and Sativex will be legal to prescribe in all 50 states. You heard it here first.