What Is Sativex? And How Is It Different from Marijuana?
Sativex is the very pharma-sounding marijuana-based patented pharmaceutical that has been approved in over 24 countries and counting.
Available as a peppermint-flavored mouth spray, it is the first pharmaceutical drug of its kind. It is currently being prescribed as a method of coping for patients with MS (multiple sclerosis) in countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, and Canada. It could be approved for use in the United States too.
This article will seek to answer the question, “what is Sativex?” It will touch upon how it’s made and try to clear up just how the legality of this marijuana-extract actually differs from the still-illegal-in-the-USA marijuana.
What’s the Difference Between Sativex and Marijuana?
GW Pharmaceuticals is the UK-based company behind the drug, and they are quite open about the fact that Sativex contains the very same compounds as cannabis.
So, what is the difference? Well, the drug is manufactured using modern processes that standardize the medicine, resulting in a chemical compound called “Nabiximol.” This means that each and every bottle of the spray created contains the same concentration of ingredients, including a 1:1 equal ratio of THC to CBD.
When it comes to medical marijuana, it’s the lack of standardization that throws up an obstacle for doctors uncomfortable in lending their support for legalization.
Sativex is created using cannabis, and while the aforementioned ratio of THC to CBD can be lower than other, more potent strains of cannabis, it can still produce a high similar to that of smoking marijuana.
This means the most commonly reported side effects of using Sativex typically include fatigue and dizziness.
Medical marijuana users are now often quite savvy in avoiding the negative effects of smoking in general, opting for vaporizers to circumvent issues of oral discomfort. This isn’t the case for a portion of Sativex users, who have reported oral discomfort after administering the mouth spray.
Although the compounds are similar, it’s the method of consumption and levels of standardization that marks Sativex out as different from medical marijuana.
What’s the Difference Between Sativex & CBD Oils?
As mentioned, the ratio of THC to CBD in Sativex is basically 1:1 with a few other components thrown in for good measure. This ratio was tested by the company for remedying a variety of symptoms related to MS and some chronic pain conditions, and it was found to work quite well with a good balance of safety and effectiveness, which resulted in fewer side effects.
Where the drug differs from CBD oils is its THC content. CBD oils typically contain a negligible amount of THC, which serves to set them apart from other medical marijuana products in terms of legality.
The low to virtually nonexistent amounts of THC in CBD oils also ensure that users do not experience the aforementioned side effects that Sativex users have reported, such as dizziness and fatigue. They also cannot get you “high.”
And What Is Sativex Used For?
Having undergone a number of clinical trials with a view to tackle a variety of medical conditions, Sativex has seen some success.
As we touched upon at the beginning of the article, Sativex has been approved solely for dealing with MS-related spasticity in a number of countries around the world. Although it produces a “high,” there has been no evidence to suggest that its users have developed a tolerance to the drug over the course of a one-year period.
Creators GW Pharmaceuticals are hopeful that the drug will soothe a number of other medical conditions, including the likes of diabetes, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and cancer. Some previous studies have suggested Sativex could be a potential strategy for neuropathic pain and arthritis, too, while cancer pain trials have been undertaken in the US and the UK.
How Is It Made?
Sativex is manufactured in the United Kingdom, where GW Pharmaceuticals is based. The fact that marijuana is illegal in the UK, even for medical purposes, has not been an impediment to the company as they were issued a governmental license to grow cannabis for research and development in 1998.
The medicine in Sativex is extracted from specially selected cannabis plants that have been grown in order to produce a constant and balanced amount of active ingredients. It is produced in strictly controlled laboratory conditions.
The Legal Issues & Concerns
Due to the fact that the active ingredient in Sativex is cannabis, you may be led to believing that any FDA approval would make life rather difficult for the US government when it comes to the legal status of medical marijuana.
Well, it seems they’ve left themselves some wiggle room due to the fact that Sativex has that scientific name (remember “Nabiximol” from earlier?). This actually allows Sativex to be scheduled separately from cannabis.
This approach has been used by other countries where Sativex is available, allowing them to concurrently continue their ban on medical marijuana.
Back in the US, Sativex was approved for the FDA’s Fast Track back in 2014. However, this was with a view to developing a method of coping for patients with cancer, which was subsequently unsuccessful in stage-one trials. Not to be deterred, it looks like the drug will be approved by the FDA for MS patients within the next 12 months.
And despite this being potentially good news for sufferers of MS, it will still be bittersweet. That’s because, without the help of government subsidies, Sativex is incredibly expensive.
For example, in New Zealand, less than 8% of approved patients ended up filling their prescriptions due to the prohibitive costs; an annual prescription there costs upwards of $16,000 (USD). If and when it’s approved by the FDA, it remains to be seen just how cost effective it will be as a method of coping for MS.