The Pharmaceutical Industry’s Relationship With CannabisWritten by Chris Weatherall on Jun 27, 2021
Cannabis has had a long, changing history in the United States. Over the years, it has gone from being commonly used to a controversial topic. Now, as the future of cannabis seems to be promising across the country, there are still many obstacles in the way of medical cannabis becoming legal. Though currently the United States has reached its highest percentage of citizens ever in favor of cannabis legalization, it is still illegal under federal law.
At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry has become one of the most powerful businesses in the country. Its current value sits at over one trillion dollars. Big Pharma, which includes ten of the largest powers of the pharmaceutical industry, like businesses such as Johnson & Johnson, are heavily influential when it comes to political decisions in the U.S.
The cannabis industry is currently valued at about five billion but is projected to continue to grow exponentially, especially within the next five years. Because of this, the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the cannabis industry is strained as cannabis can be a threat to their profit.
The History of Cannabis in the United States
Cannabis has been around in the United States for longer than it’s been a country. Its cousin, the hemp plant, can be traced back to the early 1700s.
By the early- to mid-1800s, cannabis was commonly used by many to help with nervousness and anxiety. Cannabis cigarettes were even advertised in popular media at the time. Towards the latter part of the 1800s, cannabis was an ingredient used by the pharmaceutical industry in common medications to help treat ailments such as pain and nausea relief.
In the 20th century, there was a large shift in opinions on cannabis, due to the increased usage of it by people of color. States began passing laws prohibiting cannabis use, and by 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented what was known as the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This was one of the first federal laws to ever restrict marijuana use. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 required that the owner of cannabis have a specific stamp with information regarding the cannabis if they had it, but because it was banned if the owner of it went to get a stamp, they would basically incriminate themselves.
Now, in 2021, the country is seeing a majority of citizens that are now in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. Yet, it is still illegal in many states and under federal law for what seems to be for power and political reasons.
How Has Big Pharma Gotten in the Way of the Growing Cannabis Industry?
As the cannabis industry has begun to grow so quickly in recent years, Big Pharma has been invested in installing obstacles in its path. The pharmaceutical giants have not only invested in companies, studies, and advertisements that are against cannabis use, but they have now begun attempting to create their own synthetic versions of cannabis to try and combat the sales of the opposing industry. Big Pharma’s relationship with marijuana has consistently been to be a leading obstacle in the way of cannabis legislation change.
Why the Cannabis Industry Is a Threat to Big Pharma
The quickly growing cannabis industry can be seen as a threat to Big Pharma in more than one way:
1. Cannabis as an Alternative Medicine
Cannabis can be used as not only an ingredient in medications but also as an alternative medication itself for a multitude of ailments. This is why the growing cannabis industry is such an imposing threat to Big Pharma.
Medical cannabis can be used for a multitude of different reasons in patients:
- Chronic pain
- Nerve pain
- Muscle relaxer
- Anxiety reducer
- Appetite enhancer
- Managing nausea
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Sleep aid
- Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, and Multiple Sclerosis
2. Cannabis Is Much Safer Than Opiates
According to Harvard Health, the most common use of medical cannabis across the U.S. is for pain relief and it is especially high with people who deal with chronic pain. On the opposite side of this, the biggest ailment Big Pharma prescribes opiates for is pain relief.
The United States has had an ongoing opioid epidemic for years now, with an average of more than 100 people per day dying from opioid overdoses across the country due to the medications being over-prescribed. Unlike opiates, cannabis is not addictive. This makes cannabis a great alternative option to opioids if a patient is worried about forming a dependency. Opiates are, unfortunately, extremely addictive and can create dependencies quickly.
A study done for the Journal of the American Medical Association of Internal Medicine found that where medical marijuana was legalized, opioid overdoses dropped almost 24% in those areas. This means that medical cannabis can even help curb opioid use and overdoses, something Big Pharma ultimately profits off of.
3. The Growing Value of the Cannabis Industry
The cannabis industry in the United States is currently worth billions of dollars, and it is only expected to grow as time goes on. The revenue the cannabis industry now brings in for both medical and recreational cannabis is threatening to the revenue of the pharmaceutical industry, especially due to the growing accessibility of cannabis around the country.
Because of the growing value of the cannabis market that is taking away from profit off of prescription medications created by Big Pharma, the pharmaceutical industry has been debating jumping into the cannabis industry and creating medications and even synthetic cannabis products to combat sales.
Cannabidiol, otherwise known by its common name CBD, is one of the fastest-growing cannabis-derived products in the country. CBD is an ingredient extracted from the cannabis plant, but it has none of the psychoactive effects that THC creates in its users. CBD produces a calming feeling that is able to help with a variety of problems. CBD is also an over-the-counter product, making it extremely accessible.
CBD products are becoming immensely popular to help with multiple ailments from muscle pain to sleeping, to even depression and anxiety. CBD interacts with receptors in your brain that aid you in relaxing and help you to feel calm. Because CBD is a natural alternative to a variety of medications, many people are making the switch to it over prescription drugs.
The pharmaceutical industry has become increasingly interested in CBD and its beneficial effects. Big Pharma has even been working on creating synthetic forms of cannabis or CBD to profit off of themselves.
Big Pharma Attempting to Enter the Cannabis Industry
Now, as the benefits of cannabis are becoming difficult to ignore, Big Pharma has decided to attempt to enter the cannabis industry in their own way instead of throwing their money towards attempting to stop it. Many big pharmaceutical companies are now starting to create their own kinds of CBD-based drugs that are approved by the FDA. Some of these companies are now also pushing for CBD to be changed to a schedule II drug, meaning that then only medical personnel could be in charge of handling and prescribing it. Some companies in Big Pharma are even creating their own patents for CBD- or THC-based drugs that they would solely benefit off of, if marijuana is changed to a schedule II drug.
As of now though, Big Pharma’s only foot in the cannabis industry has been to attempt to block legislation change, and now with the creation of synthetic cannabis products. Many of these synthetic cannabis products do not have the same results as cannabis and have been seen to cause adverse side effects such as headaches, dizziness, and even abdominal pain. Because these synthetic versions are not 100% natural, unlike cannabis, they do not work the same.
The Future of Cannabis in the United States
Due to the growing amount of people in favor of the legalization of cannabis across the country, as well as the amount of money the cannabis industry helps bring in, the future of cannabis is seemingly bright. Currently, more than 30 states have legalized cannabis use. Many people are hopeful that federal laws criminalizing cannabis will change within the next few years, due to the popularity of the cannabis industry.
Public opinion has changed drastically over the years regarding cannabis use, which was once demonized and is now emphasized to have medicinal benefits that can help many. The natural benefits of the cannabis plant can help treat a variety of ailments that otherwise would most likely have to be treated by prescription drugs.
Cannabis policy reform has been long impending in the United States. As the benefits that come along with cannabis use are becoming well-known, many people across the nation are beginning to make the switch from their prescription drugs, especially painkillers. The current legislation in place criminalizing cannabis federally is bound to be changed soon. As the cannabis industry continues to grow to be an immensely valuable entity, the government and other powers will want to be able to reap the benefits, too.
The Final Verdict: Cannabis is a Threat to Big Pharma
Cannabis use in the United States has been a controversial topic for far too long. Now that the multitude of medicinal benefits that come from cannabis use are beginning to be emphasized and become well-known, the public’s mind has changed greatly regarding cannabis use and the legislation around it. This is a big threat to Big Pharma.
Ultimately, the relationship between Big Pharma and the cannabis industry is one of a competitive nature. It seems that Big Pharma will continually work to maintain its immense power and value, no matter what the circumstances may be. As the cannabis industry continues to grow both in popularity and monetary value, Big Pharma’s power is becoming more and more threatened.
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