UK TESTING MEDICAL MARIJUANA INHALER
Device Has Unlikely Future In USA
Plans to make marijuana available by prescription to British multiple
sclerosis sufferers also promise to shake up the debate in the USA
over legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Sativex, an inhaler that dispenses medical marijuana in mist form, is
in the final stages of testing by the United Kingdom's Department of
Health, a spokeswoman said.
Once approved, Sativex's developer, GW Pharmaceuticals, a British
company, hopes to sell medical pot in western Europe and the
Commonwealth countries, including Canada. The U.S. market is a
"long-term objective," company spokesman Mark Rogerson says.
Sativex would be the first prescription drug that uses real marijuana
extract and not a synthesized form. The product offers hope of pain
relief to an estimated 110,000 MS sufferers in the United Kingdom.
Some say that by licensing the drug, the British government has
confirmed its value in relieving pain. Others say that once
government-approved marijuana is available, it will be more difficult
to argue that disease sufferers should be permitted to grow or
purchase pot for their own use.
"The government's spin will be that there is a right way and a wrong
way to pursue (medical marijuana), and that (Sativex) proves it," says
Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform
of Marijuana Laws. The Washington, D.C.-based group favors relaxing
criminal penalties for all pot users.
Worldwide, an estimated 2.5 million people have multiple sclerosis,
including 400,000 in the USA. It is a chronic disease that affects the
central nervous system and can result in speech defects and loss of
The Sativex device uses vapor distilled from marijuana plants grown
under government supervision in southern England.
It has already proved successful in relieving the muscle and headache
pain of a small number of test patients, according to trial results
reviewed by the UK's Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory
The product is sprayed under the tongue and is believed to be
especially effective because it is absorbed quickly and contains all
of the marijuana plant's pain-relieving properties.
Other marijuana-related pain killers, such as the anti-nausea drug
Marinol, are synthetic versions of some but not all of the plant's
In the USA, Marinol pills have been available by prescription since
1985 for chemotherapy-related nausea and similar conditions.
When used in small doses, Sativex does not produce the mild euphoria
that has made pot a popular recreational drug, GW Pharmaceuticals
spokesman Rogerson says. But he acknowledges that it could be
"abused" by overuse.
To be sold in the USA, the Sativex inhaler would have to be tested and
approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
But the device is likely to face opposition from the Bush
administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The administration argues that marijuana use is associated with a
variety of health problems.
Since 2002, it has opposed initiatives to decriminalize medical
marijuana in 13 states. All but one initiative failed. Ten states have
laws that ease or eliminate penalties for using medical marijuana.