In early June the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reclassified synthetic THC from a Schedule II drug to the less restrictive Schedule III. This change makes it easier for doctors to prescribe the drug, easing paperwork and allowing telephone orders and automatic refills.
THC is chemically called 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, but as a synthesized drug it is called dronabinol. The biggest distributor of dronabinol is Unimed Pharmaceuticals, which has been selling it since 1985, in gelatin capsules with sesame oil, under the brand name Marinol.
Originally approved only for nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy, in 1992 the US Food and Drug Administration approved Marinol for the treatment of appetite loss in AIDS patients.
This is the first time the DEA has down-scheduled a Schedule II drug, and the decision was influenced by a study from the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, which concluded that Marinol has a low abuse potential and virtually no diversion.
Unimed Pharmaceuticals’ President, Dr Robert Dudley, said that the decision came “at a very critical time, given the increased appreciation among the medical community that cannabinoid-based medicines have potentially broad utility.”
Another medically useful cannabinoid being synthesized and studied is cannabidiol (CBD). The synthetic version has been dubbed dexanabinol by creator Dr Raphael Mecholum of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Dr Mecholum, who discovered THC in 1964, is working for an Israeli pharmaceutical company called Pharmos.
Pharmos hopes to market dexanabinol in injectible form, for the prevention of brain damage during ischaemic strokes, and to the military as protection from nerve gas. The drug is currently being studied on patients in Israel’s neuro-trauma centres.
Cannabidiol and other cannabinoids have potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which neutralize the free radicals released during brain trauma, which can otherwise cause severe permanent damage.