If Sativex Works, So Does Pot


A new study reported in the journal Pain finds that Sativex, an orally administered cannabis extract spray, is effective at treating neuropathic pain in patients for whom standard painkillers do not provide adequate relief. During the five-week study, 125 subjects with peripheral neuropathic pain continued to take previously prescribed analgesics and achieved additional relief from Sativex, averaging a reduction of about 1.5 points on a 10-point self-reported pain scale, compared to half a point for the placebo spray. The research is part of GW Pharmaceuticals' efforts to gain wider regulatory approval for Sativex, which is approved for treatment of multiple sclerosis in Europe and for treatment of both cancer pain and M.S.-related neuropathic pain in Canada. 

Every study that demonstrates Sativex's medical utility also demonstrates marijuana's medical utility, belying the U.S. government's claim that it has none. At the same time, if the FDA does eventually approve Sativex for prescription use in the U.S., it will undermine the case for medical marijuana. Like smoked (or vaporized) marijuana but unlike the FDA-approved THC capsules sold under the brand name Marinol, Sativex can be taken easily by people suffering from severe nausea, and its effects are felt quickly, so patients can readily adjust their doses for optimal effect. Smoked/vaporized marijuana may be somewhat faster-acting than Sativex, which is absorbed through the mucus membranes in the mouth, and it would presumably be cheaper as well, although not for patients who have prescription drug coverage. And while Sativex contains both THC and cannabidiol, other ingredients in marijuana may contribute to its therapeutic effect in certain applications.