Illicit drugs showing more promise as legitimate medicine

(Via Ethan Russo, M.D. in comment 21): GW Pharmaceuticals announces positive preliminary results in a Phase III clinical trial with Sativex¬ (a cannabis medicine containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)) in 177 patients with severe cancer pain.

Dr Stephen Wright, GW’s R&D Director, said, “Patients in this trial were suffering intense pain as a result of their cancer despite using currently available strong opioid treatments and therefore have a very high clinical need. The data from this important trial further demonstrates the broad potential of Sativex, not only in its initial Multiple Sclerosis and neuropathic pain markets, but also in cancer and potentially other types of chronic pain. These positive results suggest that Sativex may represent a valuable new treatment option for this group of patients.”

There’s an interesting connection between this excellent news and Libby’s post at Last One Speaks today:

German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG has already paid $60 million for the European rights and $14 million for the Canadian rights to market Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine developed in Britain by GW Pharmaceuticals. Bayer in competition with Cannasat Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Toronto want to set up shop in Canada.

…Alan Young, Cannasat’s legal adviser, a loquacious Osgoode Hall law professor who has fought a decades-long battle to liberalize marijuana laws, says because cannabis-based drugs have the potential to help people in a number of critical areas yet to be discovered, it could become one of the biggest pharmaceutical sectors ever developed. “There is going to be a revolution in the next decade in treatment options,” says Young, his voice rising to emphasize the point. “People are sick and tired of synthetic products that are constantly being pulled off the market for undisclosed side effects. The time is right for herbal products.”

Indeed the time has always right for herbal products which have long since gone mainstream. It’s just this particular herb that remains exploited – so far. But don’t be fooled by their talk of protecting the public. Although it’s true that cannabis is a far superior medicine to chemical alternatives, the pharma are interested in profit, not in the public health.

There are a whole lot of dynamics going on here, and it’s hard to say how it’s all going to play out.
When it comes to marijuana, the correct approach — the one that most values the well being of the individual, would be to legalize this safe and useful herb and allow it to be used for a variety of medical purposes, while at the same time researching specialized applications and extracts that would be more effective for specific uses and that could be patented for the profit of drug companies.
However, the correct approach is not likely to be present in the battles of politics and money that swirl around marijuana.
The amazing thing in all this is that people like John Walters can continue to lie and say that marijuana has no medical value.
“bullet” Mark Kleiman has an excellent post about another aspect of illicit drugs used for legitimate medicine: approved experiments in the use of hallucinogens to help dying people cope with impending death. He fisks a poorly written (although otherwise factually strong) piece in the New York Times that completely misses the fact that “effusiveness and heightened awareness” is not the same as dulling perception and cognition.
Beyond the good job that Mark does in chastizing poor reporting, the piece itself brings up some very interesting thoughts about the use of psychedelics. I have seen people in the final stages of life, so pumped up on morphine that their brains were mush. If there is a possibility of using hallucinogens in a way that will make them more aware without the intolerable pain, it’s worth pursuing.

[Extra bonus points to Scott, today, who has been giving me tons of useful leads]
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