Posted by Guest
This guest post was written by Jahan Marcu, a cannabis researcher who is a member of ASA’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board.
In a press release issued February 24th 2009, GW pharmaceuticals reported that there is no evidence of withdrawal from long term use of Sativex, an oral cannabis spray. The study looked at 36 MS (Multiple Sclerosis) patients who used the medicine for over 3 years. The patients were divided into two groups for this 4 week investigation. One group kept using Sativex and the other switched to placebo (no drug). Of course, without their medicine, patient’s muscle spasms became worse. The link between cannabis for the treatment of spasms has been established for a long time, over 150 years ago. Yet, this is study may provide some unique evidence that cannabis, if allowed to be researched for medical use, can grow into a safe and effective medicine.
Before we can understand the meaning of these findings, we should take a minute to review how Sativex is made. Sativex is an extract of two cannabis varieties. This isn’t a crude extract, but precise and scientific removal of all the essential plant components. Cannabinoids and terpenes are extracted from soil grown plants which produce a specific ratio of the active ingredients. GW has different types of stable cannabis plants available for their work, such as varieties that have been cultivated to produce a certain cannabinoid or ingredient. Of the more than 70 cannabinoids that can be found on the plant, generally the two most common molecules are THC and CBD. Thus, GW basically combines a THC-rich and CBD-rich plant to maximize specific therapeutic actions (decrease muscle spasms) and minimize negative effects (withdrawal symptoms).
Combining different strains or varieties of cannabis to create a medicine with virtually no withdrawal or side effects may seem counter intuitive to some people or it may even sound like a plot for a Pineapple Express sequel. However, the individual compounds found in cannabis varieties, produce different beneficial effects and sometimes even opposite effects. With the help of science these compounds can be measured, plant materials can be mixed, extracted, and delivered with precision.
Furthermore, not only were there no withdrawal symptoms reported but there were little or no negative effects reported that are usually associated with a long term THC treatment. Pure THC and cannabis (or cannabis extracts) have unique properties which separate them from each other.
This surprising detail may be partially due to misconceptions resulting from restrictions on cannabis research in the U.S; most of the public knowledge on the negative effects of cannabis comes from studies looking at the effects of pure THC. For lack of a better analogy, this is like studying the effects of beer by giving research subjects pure alcohol.
When given the opportunity and access to openly investigate cannabis, researchers can readily provide a cannabis medicine with symptom specificity. GW’s ongoing work demonstrates that with proper knowledge and scientific methods, a safe and effective medicine can be made from mixtures of soil grown cannabis plants.