Medical marijuana may be a breakthrough, but it won’t threaten Big Pharma

Pharmaceutical-grade products will always face tighter regulations than those at retail

As an avid believer in the healing properties of marijuana, I get excited about the potential benefits we know so little about. We see ample evidence from anecdotal accounts, which solidify my faith in this miraculous plant, but at the same time, leave room for imagination. From a more grounded perspective, it’s obvious to me that marijuana is more than just something we get high from, but the full verdict remains uncertain. What exactly does it heal? And perhaps more important, is it more effective than prescription drugs?

Surely, we understand that cannabis needs to be studied more. As a Schedule I controlled substance, large-scale clinical trials are difficult to perform because marijuana is still deemed to have “no medical benefit” according to the DEA. Some skeptics claim that pharmaceutical companies lobby for this strict status to protect their own drugs. Yet the general public has gradually become more accepting with 31 states now allowing some form of medical marijuana.

So shouldn’t Big Pharma be worried about marijuana’s potential to threaten everything the pharmaceutical industry has created and built? In my opinion, medical marijuana doesn’t threaten Big Pharma and it never will. Here are my three biggest reasons:

1. In the event of major legislative changes, Big Pharma will be ready.

Just recently, the big news in the marijuana industry was about Epidiolex, an anti-seizure drug made by GW Pharmaceuticals that treats rare forms of epilepsy in children. The Food and Drug Administration in June approved it for medical use, making it the first marijuana-based drug to be approved by the agency.

This is big news, but I think it’s foolish to think that it threatens the profitability of the pharmaceutical industry. Parents with children suffering from Lennox-Gestaut or Dravet syndrome can turn to dispensary-provided CBD, but CBD products that are purchased from dispensaries are not regulated as stringently as pharmaceutical-grade CBD will be. If a child is suffering from a life-threatening seizure disorder, that’s not a shortcut worth taking.

In addition to insurance and the countless pharmaceutical assistance programs available, Epidiolex might even be cheaper out-of-pocket for most patients than buying CBD from a dispensary.

More CBD research will prove beneficial for even more conditions, but you can expect additional breakthroughs to work along the same logic.

2. The most popular uses for medical marijuana don’t threaten Big Pharma anyway.

The cumulative report issued by New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program includes a chart showing every time medical marijuana was recommended and for which conditions.

There is a common thread among most of these conditions, including three of the four most frequent ailments (intractable skeletal spasticity, chronic pain and inflammatory bowel disease): It’s that no existing drug cures the symptoms, let alone the cause. For patients suffering from a chronic condition for which conventional medicine offers no solution, alternative approaches like marijuana become more appealing. But it’s ultimately a win-win for pharmaceutical companies because in the short-term, their sales remain unscathed and in the long-term, as discussed previously, pharmaceutical-grade products will likely always meet higher regulatory standards than those available at retail.

3. Doctors don’t know enough about marijuana.

Diagnosing doctors must sort through patients’ symptoms and match them with the most appropriate solutions. That’s precisely what medical school is designed to teach — but it’s highly uncommon for doctors to be taught about marijuana as a remedy. Medical schools are more apt to teach doctors how to use pharmaceutical products as solutions as opposed to cannabis, so treatment plans reflect this. For a doctor to prescribe marijuana as a possible solution for anything goes against medical school doctrine.

 

A Pragmatic Future

It’s time to dispel the notion that Big Pharma is somehow scared of the medical marijuana industry. For all the greediness that the pharmaceutical industry is labeled with — and sometimes, rightfully so — facing these facts is only being pragmatic about the future of medical marijuana.

 

Jack Glasker is a health-care cost consultant for individuals and companies. He believes medical cannabis may be part of the answer to solving the American health-care crisis. He uses his knowledge about the pricing structure of pharmaceuticals and the regulatory nature of health insurance coverage to produce content on his “MMJ Savior” YouTube and Twitter pages.

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