For many years, marijuana has been used in the health care field to help relieve some of the pain, tremors, weight loss, vomiting, and/or nausea that patients with such conditions as multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and cancer may be experiencing.

How is Marijuana Currently Being Used to Treat Medical Conditions?

Historically, patients have had the option of smoking the marijuana plant or taking the Food and Drug Administration-approved “marijuana pill," which came on the market in 1985 and is known as Marinol (brand name owned by Solvay Pharmaceuticals) or Dronabinol (generic). However, many patients claim that Marinol is not as effective at relieving their symptoms as is smoking the whole plant. Additionally, Marinol does not have cannabidiol, an ingredient that is believed to protect against seizures. But, on the other hand, there are as many as 400 unknown substances in the marijuana plant, potentially including spores from fungi as well as cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). Medical marijuana has also posed a bit of a social problem in states such as California where, in certain areas like Venice Beach, appointments for prescriptions are actively marketed.

Who Makes the Marijuana Mouth Spray and How Does It Work?

The spray is named Sativex and contains extremely pure cannabidiol (not part of Marinol as mentioned above) and delta 9-THC. Produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom, the mouth spray functions in the same way as other types of mouth sprays and inhalers with patients being able to view a dose meter and spray the drug under the tongue. Unlike other pharmaceuticals, Sativex is derived from the plant rather than from versions that have been synthesized in a laboratory. According to the manufacturer, the spray gives the patient the therapeutic benefits of the drug without producing the “high" that is typically associated with smoking the plant. The implication is that patients would likely be better able to be productive in their personal and professional lives while using the spray as opposed to the plant.

What Side Effects Might Users of Sativex Experience?

The company reports that side effects may include fatigue and dizziness, which usually resolve after a few weeks. Food cravings commonly associated with marijuana use (aka “the munchies") are not reported.

Will the Mouth Spray Be Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration?

As of the time this article was written, clinical trials of Sativex were still ongoing in the United States. However, Sativex has already been approved and is being used by patients in a number of European countries including Spain, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Ultimately, the FDA makes decisions about pharmaceuticals based on their proven medical benefits as well as data on the substance's safety as determined from carefully designed clinical trials (i.e., testing the drug in actual patients). The Drug Enforcement Administration collaborates to determine whether a substance should be controlled and, if so, how carefully prescribing and dispensing activities should be monitored. These decisions are made based on the substance's addictive potential and potential for abuse.