The Hypocrisy of the DEA: Why Synthetic Cannabis is Now Legal
If you look up the description of cannabis in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) handbook, you’ll still read the words “Schedule I.” The DEA still considers marijuana highly dangerous, highly illegal and of no medical benefit. Yes, 29 states across the country have approved marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, but the federal government continues to ignore the scientific facts.
With the recent approval of Dronabinol, it brings into light the real opinion of the federal government. Dronabinol, also called Syndros, is a bioidentical synthetic THC. You read that right; the DEA approved a synthetic cannabinoid. It is virtually identical to the THC we all know and love but produced in a laboratory. The real deal remains highly illegal, listed alongside methamphetamines and heroin.
Interestingly, this is not the first time the obvious contradiction has come into play with the DEA’s policy on cannabis. Pharmaceutical versions of synthetic marijuana have been in circulation in the United States since 1985 when Marinol was approved in capsule form. Syndros is merely an extension of the same approval, in an oral spray format.
The latest incarnation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved synthetic cannabis is a game of semantics. Marinol, a capsule, is classified as a Schedule III drug, which means its relatively difficult to abuse. Syndros, as an oral spray, is considered easier to abuse. It theoretically can be extracted and taken for off-label applications. It is therefore classified as a Schedule II substance.
Marijuana, a plant grown for centuries around the world for its powerful medicinal characteristics, remains classified as a Schedule I drug.
Let’s Break This Down
Why are the opinions of the DEA so contradictory when it comes cannabis? As a comparison, its like if the FDA declared that foods containing vitamin A like carrots and kale were all reclassified as illegal drugs. To replace the naturally grownvegetables, the FDA approved the use of Accutane (a vitamin A derivative). Make sense? Of course not.
According to the statement by the DEA, quietly released right before Thanksgiving, “The DEA notes that FDA-approved products of oral solutions containing dronabinol have an approved medical use, whereas marijuana does not have an approved medical use and therefore remains in schedule I.”
Their contradiction seems to have been officially noted but immediately bypassed in their approval of Syndros. Dronabinol was developed to mimic the same medicinal qualities of THC, yet THC remains illegal at the federal level. This hypocrisy, for many people in the cannabis industry, is difficult to swallow.
Enter the Cannabis Conspiracy Theories
Naturally, the rift of logic triggers assumptions about why the DEA chooses to classify marijuana as dangerous and non-beneficial. Grassroots speculation about the activities of big government easily takes on conspiracy theory vibes. But in this particular case, some of the theories might actually contain a kernel of truth.
Before the final classification of Syndros by the DEA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an approval. The company behind Syndros, Insys Therapeutics, now has complete control over production, market supply, and price point of its synthetic THC. Drug patents last for at least 20 years in the United States.
The Question of Price Point
The Healthcare Bluebook as estimated that a one month supply of Syndros will run a patient anywhere from USD 1,000 to 2,000. For anyone already using the plant-based medical marijuana, the synthetic sticker price might come as a big shock.
How much does a one month supply medical marijuana typically run in your household? Under most circumstances, plant-based cannabis products run much, much cheaper than the FDA approved synthetic substance. Better yet, for people licensed to grow their own medical cannabis, the most significant investment is in time and care.
The federal government might be hesitant to back legalization because the pharmaceutical industry is a much more politically profitable enterprise.
The Question of Political Donations
We’ll get into the full dirty history of Insys Therapeutics in a second, but an important clue about why only their synthetic cannabinoid was approved for medicinal usage, and not the all-natural plant, relates to political donations.
Insys Therapeutics donated half a million dollars to the campaign against legalization in Arizona, which was a contributing factor to its demise. Despite the fact that they are now profiting from synthetic cannabinoids, they are adamantly against legalization of anything natural.
According to their worldview, natural cannabis remains extremely dangerous. Read another way; it remains hazardous to their profit margins. If you can grow your medicine in your backyard, why would you ever spend your hard earned money on an expensive laboratory produced pharmaceutical?
The Ethics Behind Insys Therapeutics
Even beyond the problems of the DEA, the public should have serious reservations about the ethics of Insys Therapeutics as a whole. Not only are they purposefully choosing to fight the cannabis industry through political donations and their deep-pocketed clout, but they also have a long running history of questionable morals.
Insys is likely responsible for much of the fentanyl crisis in America today, as its the developer of the deadly drug Subsys Fentanyl. Insys is currently undergoing two investigations at the state and federal levels about its morally questionable marketing tactics. A number of high-level employees are indicted on charges from a kickback scheme.
According to the former assistant director of the FBI, Diego Rodriguez, the case against Insys, “should be something the medical industry and the general public should pay close attention to because it’s one of the reasons we’re experiencing an epidemic of overdoses and deaths in this country.”
There is much more going on between Insys, the DEA, and the federal government. The line between legal pharmaceuticals and all-natural plant-based medicines is not a straight one. An interesting political fight is ramping up. With the opinions of the current administration, including the extreme anti-marijuana rhetoric of Jeff Sessions in one corner, and the legalized 30 states and districts in the other.