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DEA Approves Synthetic Marijuana

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When its grown and used in its natural plant form, marijuana is an illegal and highly addictive drug with no accepted medical value, according to the agency. But when a pharmaceutical company develops a synthetic marijuana product, the DEA is more open-minded.


Last week, the DEA approved Syndros, an oral solution that contains a synthetic version of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. That caught the attention of marijuana reform advocates because the drug company behind Syndros, Insys Therapeutics, contributed $500,000 to a committee that last year opposed marijuana legalization in Arizona.


Insys did not respond to a request for comment.

The approval of Syndros has also raised questions about the DEA's standards for classifying drugs under federal law. Syndros earned a Schedule 2 classification, which is significantly less restrictive than marijuana's Schedule 1 classification. The key difference between the two schedules concerns each drug's medical value and potential for abuse, factors that are determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).




On Thursday, Insys Therapeutics announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an interim final rule that would put Syndros, their synthetic marijuana drug, on Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

“Insys is looking forward to bringing this new drug product to chemotherapy patients to help alleviate their nausea and vomiting and AIDS patients with anorexia associated weight loss, respectively,” Dr. Santosh Vetticaden, interim CEO, said in the announcement.

“We look forward to interacting with the FDA to finalize the labeling and subsequent launch of Syndros in the second half of 2017,” Vetticaden said.


Syndros is a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in the plant. In July 206, the company announced the FDA approved their liquid form of synthetic THC to treat anorexia associated AIDS patients, and nausea and vomiting induced by cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

The DEA approval placed Syndros and its generic formulations in schedule II of the CSA, which is reserved for drugs that have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” 

While some Schedule II drugs can be used for medical purposes, like Vicodin, oxycodone, Adderall, and many prescription painkillers, Schedule I drugs are all federally illegal. Non-synthetic marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”



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