A pharmaceutical giant has discovered what an increasing number of parents and patients across the United States have become privy to over the past several years: cannabis has the power to treat seizures. However, while the news of any scientific discovery showing definitive evidence that the cannabis plant provides an irrefutable therapeutic benefit is one that should be celebrated, there is a dark side to this breakthrough that stands to sabotage efforts to legalize medical marijuana at both the state and federal level.
When GW Pharmaceuticals announced earlier this week that its drug Epidiolex had been successful in clinical trials at reducing the frequency of seizures in children suffering from Dravet Syndrome, the company’s stock skyrocketed by nearly 140 percent, as investors dumped massive amounts of capital into the drug company in hopes of capitalizing on Uncle Sam’s version of legal marijuana. You see — Epidiolex is not some clever chemical cocktail designed by some mad scientist to prevent seizures; it is simply cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, a natural, non-intoxicating compound of the cannabis plant.
What separates a drug like Epidiolex and the CBD products being sold in the 23 states and the District of Columbia where medical marijuana has been made legal is GW Pharma has the financial strength to adhere to all of the federal government’s rules for bringing the medication to the national market. In 2014, the company received permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the DEA to launch a series of clinical trials for its marijuana-based epilepsy medicine, with the end result likely to bring a nicely packaged, federally regulated cannabis drug to the American pharmaceutical market in 2017.
“We are excited about the potential for Epidiolex to become the first FDA approved treatment option specifically for Dravet syndrome patients and their families,” Justin Gover, GW’s CEO, said in a statement.
Once this happens, it is conceivable and highly probable that Epidiolex will be sold in popular drugstores, such as CVS and Walgreens, to patients with a prescription all across the nation. Unlike the medical marijuana being distributed at the state level, many health insurance networks will begin including the drug as part of their prescription coverage, giving those families currently shelling out sometimes thousands of dollars a month to prevent their kids from having seizures a more affordable option that will not cause them any problems with law enforcement.
The Epidiolex development could also eliminate many of the common arguments for medical marijuana legalization in the State Legislatures. After all, the moment a bunch of parents gather to testify before a committee in an attempt to persuade them to legalize cannabis oil for their sick kids, lawmakers will simply refer those people to their family physicians. “It’s already legal with a prescription,” is destined to become the most popular line of defense against CBD-only legislation.
Unfortunately, despite the varying medical marijuana programs operating across the country, the GW Pharmaceutical Epidiolex scenario is the one most likely to become the true portrait of federal legalization. With this method of bringing cannabis medications to the public, Congress doesn’t have to amend the Controlled Substances Act and marijuana can remains a under the Schedule I listing. For cannabis drugs like Epidiolex, the DEA is able to escape the “no medicinal value” conundrum by simply classifying it a Schedule II or III.
Once GW Pharmaceuticals brings Epidiolex to market, the company stands to generate a massive $1.1 billion in annual sales within the first five years, according to an analysis by Thomson Reuters Cortellis.
Meanwhile, the FDA refuses to approve marijuana as “a safe and effective drug for any indication.”
Will pharmaceutical-grade cannabis overtake efforts to legalize medical marijuana?