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The Pharmaceuticalization of Marijuana


G.W. Does the “Right” Thing

A hitherto reliable source says that G.W. Pharmaceuticals has hired Andrea Barthwell, MD, to lobby for approval of its cannabis-plant extracts in the U.S. G.W. manufactures a high-THC spray called Sativex that is awaiting marketing approval in Britain and Canada. They also make a high-CBD formulation, and a 50-50 mix. Barthwell, a specialist in addiction medicine, is a liberal Republican from Illinois. She was employed for two years in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under Bush’s “drug czar,” John Walters, and she left with an eye towards running for the Senate (for the seat that was won by Barak Obama).

G.W. has also hired John Pastuovic, who headed the Bush-Cheney campaign in Illinois in 2000, to handle public relations in the U.S. The implication of the hires is that G.W. founders Geoffrey Guy and Brian Whittle will use any means necessary to push their products as alternatives to smoked marijuana. Our source says, “As a stockholder -bravo! As a citizen -what a shame!” Lester Grinspoon, MD, foresaw this development several years ago and defined G.W.’s approach as “the pharmaceuticalization of marijuana.” After O’Shaughnessy’s published an article by Grinspoon, Guy expressed slightly hurt feelings, which I tried to assuage with a song. Approval by Britain or Canada will assuage them a lot better, no doubt.

Sativa is a pretty plant
It grows tall and green
With 68 cannabinoids
And the spicy-sweet terpenes
Guy says I can market this
I’ll put it in a spray
Grinspoon says let’s grow our own
Why should people have to pay?

Guy says some prefer it neat
And some don’t like the high
Grinspoon says the government
Won’t even let ’em try
Euphoria’s a side effect
Could do a lot of good
Guys says I’m all for ya, please
Don’t let me be misunderstood

We’re dealing with a system that
Is not about to change
Grinspoon says why not
Reinvent the grange?
And let a thousand farmers grow
Every helpful strain…
Guy says my approval wasn’t easy
Or cheap to almost obtain

Sativex is a useful drug
It bears the Bayer brand
Grinspoon shrugs his shoulders
Takes the bottle in his hand
“You’re right from your side
And I am right from mine
We’re just one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind…”


Dueling Anti-inflammatories

This month the FDA ordered Pfizer to stop selling Bextra, a Cox-2 anti-inflammatory drug known to cause heart attacks and strokes, but made two moves in the drug company’s interests. Pfizer is allowed to keep marketing its top-selling Cox-2 inhibitor, Celebrex, with a “black box” warning. And, at the same time, the makers of other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories have been ordered to carry black-box warnings. So, millions of arthritis sufferers and other chronic pain patients are likely to conclude that Celebrex is as safe as the others -which it isn’t- and keep taking it.

Meanwhile, the April 7 issue of Nature published a study entitled “Low dose oral cannabinoid therapy reduces progression of atherosclerosis in mice” by a group of Swiss and German investigators led by Francois Mach. They fed THC in doses of one milligram per kilogram of body weight to mice with clogged arteries and found that cells involved in plaque formation “showed diminished proliferation capacity.” The effects were blocked by a CB2 receptor antagonist. Mach et al concluded, “THC or cannabinoids with activity at the CB2 receptor may be valuable targets for treating atherosclerosis.”

But don’t let ’em have any marijuana in the meantime.
Prop 215 Demographics

As the Drug Warriors strive to curtail implementation of California’s medical marijuana law, they increasingly invoke “the will of the voters.” It is now being alleged by politicians, editorial writers and law enforcement agents (whose unions strongly opposed Prop 215) that we, the voters didn’t really intend to authorize use of marijuana as a treatment for any condition for which it provides relief. Nor did we mean to confer immunity on doctors by the words “no physician in this state shall be punished, or denied any right or privilege, for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.”

Although the meaning of the vote might be obscured, the margin of victory -56 to 44 per cent- is a historic fact. A more detailed breakdown was provided by the Los Angeles Times, which queried 2,473 Californians as they exited 40 polling places across the state on November 5, 1996. For the record:

% of All Voters Yes No
47% Male 53% 47%
53% Female 58% 42%

19% 18-29 62% 38%
35% 30-44 60% 40%
35% 45-64 53% 47%
11% 65 and Older 40% 60%

74% White 56% 44%
7% Black 70% 30%
10% Latino 49% 51%
5% Asian 49% 51%

20% High School or Less 49% 51%
29% Some College 58% 42%
27% College or More 56% 44%
24% Postgraduate 58% 42%

12% Less Than $20,000 62% 38%
24% $20,000 to $39,999 56% 44%
23% $40,000 to $59,999 51% 49%
15% $60,000 to $74,999 54% 46%
26% $75,000 or more 59% 41%

21% Liberal 78% 22%
47% Moderate 63% 37%
32% Conservative 29% 71%

45% Democrats 70% 30%
14% Independents 65% 35%
38% Republicans 34% 66%

49% Protestant 44% 56%
24% Catholic 54% 46%
6% Jewish 75% 25%

FRED GARDNER can be reached at










Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at

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