Sativex Marijuana Spray vs. Cancer Pain: Side Effects & Precautions

Marijuana mouth spray for cancer pain may get FDA nod soon: Marijuana in a mouth spray? Now ain’t that cool? Before you fall of your chair, take note: the spray is a medication and not a new form of smokeless pot.

But the great news is that the marijuana-based mouth spray — the the world’s first medication developed from raw marijuana plants — may even get the nod of the United States Food and Drug Authority as soon as next year (2013) for use as treatment in cancer pain.

The spray, called Sativex, contains Tetranabinex and Nabidiolex, extracts of chemically and genetically characterized Cannabis sativa L. or marijuana plants. It has the same active components in the type of pot smoked by people around the world: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

For a number of years, the medication has been approved in Canada (since 2005), New Zealand and eight European countries for relieving muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.

And FDA approval may be just around the corner, since its maker, British pharmaceutical GW Pharma is now undertaking advanced clinical trials.

In 1985, the FDA approved Marinol and Cesamet, two pills containing synthetic THC, to ease side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. The agency has since allowed Marinol to be prescribed to stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients.

As Marinol’s patent expired last year, U.S. companies have been scrambling to develop THC-based drugs for other ailments—and in new formulations that can be popped like a pills, rubbed into skin like a cream, or slapped on like a band aid or a skin patch.

Multiple sclerosis patients and their parents are cautiously optimistic about Sativex, CBS News reports.

Caused by the destruction of myelin, a fatty tissue that allows the nerves to conduct signals to and from the brain, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling degenerative neurological condition. Neuropathic pain is one of its more distressing symptoms—and Sativex has been shown to effectively block the pain.

In Europe, Sativex has also been used to treat moderate to severe pain in advanced cancer, when the highest doses of other pain relievers don’t provide adequate pain relief.

If Sativex does get FDA approval, here is some important information for patients:

How does Sativex block pain?

In the late 1980s and 1990s, scientists discovered that mammals have receptors for cannabinoids, the chemicals in botanical cannabis. These receptors are found in their central nervous systems, several organs and in their immune systems. Mammal bodies also produce natural cannabinoids that work on the same receptors.

Sativex is thought to act via cannabinoid receptors that are distributed throughout the central nervous system and in cells of the immune system.

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