Is Big Pharma set to corner the American market on medical marijuana?

The American Independent has previously reported on the growing corporatization of the incipient medical marijuana industry at a time when medical marijuana dispensaries scrabble to hold on to their businesses in the face of a multi-pronged federal crackdown. But there are signs afoot that it just may become ever more corporate if a Big Pharma push to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to recognize a cannabis-derived drug is successful.

Last week, British prescription drug manufacturer GW Pharmaceuticals announced a licensing agreement with drug giant Novartis, maker of Ritalin and Excedrin, to begin selling GW’s drug Sativex in markets across Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Middle East. The medication is already available in Britain, where it’s produced and marketed by Bayer, and in Canada and Spain. It’s on the market in those countries as a liquid that patients spray under the tongue and is prescribed primarily for sufferers of multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Sativex: Liquefied marijuana

If the name “Sativex” rings a distant bell, that’s because it’s derived from Cannabis sativa, the scientific name for the plant from which both hemp and marijuana are harvested. It’s an appropriate name because, unlike other cannabinoids produced for recreational and medicinal use (and plagued by side effects not present in natural cannabinoids), Sativex is not a synthetic concoction, but essentially liquefied marijuana. It’s an extract of whole-plant cannabis that includes the psychoactive agent THC as well as cannabidiol (CBD), the chemical thought to be responsible for some of the anti-nausea and cancer-cell-killing effects of medical marijuana.

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