Tech + Health

01.24.14

Big Pharma's Weed Winner

How one pharmaceutical company could become the safest and most trusted of all cannabis dealers.

It’s rare that I get to say something nice about a licit drug company.

Usually I’m all, “this anti-depressant drug is being prescribed off label and is making kids under 18 kill themselves” or “that pharmaceutical drug company is encouraging scripts of 180 pills of an opiate, at two a day, creating an addict at the end of their 90-day supply.”

But this time, when I was asked to write about UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals and their cannabis product, the nasal-spray Sativex, I couldn’t find a nasty side effect to pair it with. (Though it does have some.)

According to GW’s website (they didn’t respond to calls or emails for comment), “Sativex is a cannabinoid medicine for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis…”

What makes Sativex different from its more widely-known pill counterpart, Marinol, according to reports, is that Sativex is derived from the cannabis plant, and contains both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), whereas Marinol is synthetic THC (and rather unpleasant to use, if you ask the young and old patients prescribed it.) And while Sativex is not available for use—yet—in the US market, it is available in 24 countries around the world, and GW is seeking to expand its use into the cancer-pain market. Their US-FDA trial results are expected at the end of this year.

All this is looking good for their bottom line as their stock has steadily climbed since GW first landed on NASDAQ in May of 2013—about 423% higher, and rising.

And, since GW is now an established pharmaceutical company (it counts Bayer and Novartis among its partners) it might be a bit more attractive to mature investors than, say, the over-the-counter cannabis companies sprouting up on the penny stock market, which some have cautioned might be fueled by the classic pump-and-dump fertilizer. In other words, “Investing in marijuana stocks is a lot more dangerous than smoking marijuana.”

Meanwhile, the old guard of home-grown marijuana farmers across the country are being forced out by those who can afford the big-fees associated with the licensing to grow and sell medical or recreational marijuana in the states that now permit it.

These are the mom-and-pop operations that made cannabis the number one cash crop of states like Kentucky and New York—while it was still illegal. Those folks might either transition to legitimate cannabis business or retire quietly into the hills, leaving their well-financed replacements with their own challenges. Like this one: while some credit card companies might let you charge your pot purchase, most banks don’t want to touch the money of a business selling marijuana—the feds say that money is dirty.

“Investing in marijuana stocks is a lot more dangerous than smoking marijuana.”

But GW is different.

For one, it’s not a plant it’s marketing—it’s a plant-based pharmaceutical drug that has been rigorously tested by science. Back in 2010, The Independent (UK) declared GW’s CEO Justin Gover “the worlds most useful cannabis dealer” when he was still just the company’s managing director. Indeed, Gover has successfully navigated GW Pharmaceuticals through the sciences of the lab and drug control programs the world over, and is in the home stretch in the US with the finish line in sight, making GW also, perhaps, the safest, and most trusted, of all cannabis dealers.

GW says its vision “is to be the global leaders in prescription cannabinoid medicines… through the development of pharmaceutical products which address clear unmet needs… [and the development of] a portfolio of cannabinoid medicines… for the treatment of MS spasticity and cancer pain… and for the treatment of childhood epilepsy.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I mean—put that Sativex in your nose, and spray it.