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CBS Questions Marinol's Efficacy

Citing a DEA assertion that "Medical marijuana [...] already exists," an August 4, 2009 CBS News article asks the question: "Does the Pot Pill Work?" The article explains quotes Neil Hirsh, spokesperson for Solvay Pharmaceuticals, which produces Marinol, who states that "Marinol provides standardized THC concentrations, does not contain the 400 other uncharacterized substances found in smoked marijuana, such as carcinogens and fungal spores, and is not associated with the quick high of smoked marijuana." However, writer Brian Montopoli counters that argument: "But Marinol is not the same thing as traditional, smokeable marijuana. It is a less complex substance lacking both some of the good components found in traditional marijuana (such as cannabidiol, which has been found to have anti-seizure effects) and the bad or not-yet-fully-understood components (among them potential carcinogens) that can also come with the drug," he explains.

Yet Montopoli goes further, asking patients about their experiences with Marinol and questioning experts in the field. None of the patients with which he spoke asserted that Marinol proved a more efficient or reliable method of reducing the symptoms for which they began smoking marijuana in the first place; one patient even told the reporter that he "felt no relief" at all. He added, "It might as well be M&M's." Mitch Earlywine, "an associate professor of Clinical Psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, said in an email" that some of Marinol's main problems stemmed from its oral administration, its hard-to-control dosage, and the inability of patients suffering from nausea and similar ailments to keep the pills down. Additionally, "Earleywine [...] said that a dose of Marinol costs three to five times as much as a comparable dose of medical marijuana," making it difficult for lower-income patients to utilize.

Marinol proponents counter that "Marinol is not meant to be a cure-all: It has been approved specifically for treating nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and for treating anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS." Dr. Herbert Kleber, who served as deputy drug czar under President H.W. Bush, told CBS that he had "not seen any need for the smoked form of marijuana for those two indications," whereas "Marinol had already been quite effective for those two things."

However, as the article notes, "[r]esearch into the effects of medical marijauan is ongoing," and several studies have shown smoked marijuana to be an effective treatment for impairments not mentioned by Marinol defenders. Montopoli's article is worth checking out if only for the links he provides to recent research suggesting that marijuana "has been found to be effective in counteracting severe pain, nausea and loss of appetite," and as an antidote to seizures and muscle spasms. Montopoli concludes by stating that "The calculus, then, isn't quite as simple as the [DEA] suggests: Marinol and medical marijuana may share an active ingredient, but they offer somewhat different benefits and different drawbacks."

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