Competition for Marijuana

Patients whose suffering has been relieved by marijuana have a suggestion for what government officials can do with their propaganda denying that the drug has any medical use. Perhaps inspired by that reaction, a pharmaceutical researcher is testing a suppository containing marijuana's main active ingredient.

Mahmoud ElSohly, the scientist who oversees the federal government's pot farm at the University of Mississippi, uses tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) extracted from the plants for his suppository. The Small Business Administration, which has supported his work with $1.3 million in loans, recently gave ElSohly Laboratories an award in recognition of its innovative extraction process.

ElSohly predicts the suppository, which has been tested for safety in humans but has not undergone clinical trials, will be available within three years. As a nausea medication and appetite booster, it will compete with Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC. Marinol is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating AIDS wasting syndrome and the side effects of cancer chemotherapy.

Like smoked marijuana, the suppository has the advantage that patients do not need to swallow it and keep it down, a challenge for people suffering from severe nausea. It also should be quicker-acting than Marinol. For speed, though, it's hard to beat smoked marijuana, which works immediately and allows patients to take exactly as much as they need to control their symptoms. (In addition to nausea, marijuana is used to control pain and muscle spasms.) The main drawback of smoked marijuana is the combustion products that accompany the THC.

To avoid that hazard, the National Academy of Sciences has recommended development of an inhaler that would deliver THC (and possibly other useful cannabinoids) without smoke. Such a product would be further proof that the federal government is lying when it calls medical marijuana "a cruel hoax" with no scientific basis--an argument it uses to justify its crackdown on organizations that dispense the drug to sick people.

Yet an inhaler also would make the medical marijuana debate moot by offering an alternative that is superior to smoked cannabis. The question is how much suffering the government is prepared to inflict in the meantime.

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