Jane Tseng, [email protected]
Last Friday, the Drug Enforcement Administration eased restrictions on the prescription drug Marinol. Marinol, which is a synthetic form of THC in a sesame oil mixture, was previously classified as a "Schedule 2" drug along with morphine, cocaine, and other drugs deemed by the DEA to have medical use but a high potential for abuse. Doctors who wanted to prescribe it had to keep detailed records of the prescriptions and file copies of all prescriptions with the DEA. Marinol will henceforth be classified as a Schedule 3 drug, which puts it in the same category as codeine. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, the DEA designation for drugs with no medical value and high abuse potential.
Released on the market in 1985, Marinol has been used to treat anorexia and weight loss in AIDS patients and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy given to cancer patients. Supporters of Marinol maintain that doctors and patients have more control of dosage and quality with Marinol than with smoked marijuana.
But medical marijuana advocates contend that the increased accessibility of Marinol does not lessen the need for medical marijuana. "It's a much different compound," Dr. John P. Morgan, professor of pharmacology at City University of New York Medical School and co-author of "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence" told The Week Online. "Delivering THC by swallowing it is less effective and less efficient than by smoking crude marijuana." High dosages of Marinol can also produce severe, unpredictable psychoactive effects in some patients. Finally, many patients complain that Marinol, which must be swallowed, is an inappropriate treatment for nausea and vomiting.
Morgan said the success of medical marijuana initiatives in six states may have been behind Marinol's rescheduling. "The fact that it has been available is often cited as a reason we don't need medical marijuana. Removing some restrictions is clearly designed by the government, at least at some level, to diminish the political force of the medical marijuana movement," he said. It is widely believed that Marinol was developed and rushed onto the market fourteen years ago precisely in order to stave off political pressure to make marijuana available to patients.
John Gettman, a Virginia activist who is petitioning the federal government to have marijuana itself rescheduled, said the debate over the relative merits of marijuana versus Marinol obscures the profit motive of another key player -- the pharmaceutical industry. "The rescheduling of Marinol is an effort to increase the profits of its manufacturer by making its product more widely available and by renewing the government's justification of criminalizing access to marijuana, the less expensive alternative source of cannabinoid drugs," he said.
Marinol is produced by Unimed Pharmaceuticals. They gave it its own web site, at http://www.marinol.com.
"Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" (1997) is available in bookstores, and also has its own web site, at http://www.marijuanafacts.org.
The text of Jon Gettman's petition is available online at http://www.norml.org/legal/petition.shtml.