Sativex is the first cannabinoid pharmaceutical medicine of its kind, made from the whole cannabis plant and containing real cannabinoids. Unlike most other pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicines, Sativex doesn’t contain anything synthetic. So, what makes it different to weed and what is its role in medical cannabis? This article will cover all things Sativex!
Sativex was the first cannabis medicine of its kind. Manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company in the UK, it was the first cannabinoid medicine that was made from the cannabis plant.
People have been making medicines like Sativex for much longer than GW Pharmaceuticals, and any cannabis tincture or oil is comparable. What is essentially special about Sativex is that it was manufactured by a pharmaceutical company – without the presence of lab-made cannabinoids.
So then how is it different, exactly, to those buds, “medibles”, tinctures and oils that can be purchased in the dispensary? Is it the same as medical cannabis, both legally and medically? Would and should a medical cannabis patient have any interest in using Sativex?
Most of us never imagined weed being a part of the “big pharma”, but Sativex acts as something like a bridge between the medical cannabis industry and the big pharmaceuticals. That’s what makes it a particularly interesting cannabis medicine and a potential way to access medical cannabis in Europe.
What is Sativex?
Created by GW Pharmaceuticals in 1998, Sativex (aka Nabiximols) has now become available in 30 countries. It is a type of cannabis concentrate used as a mouth spray and is made out of the entire cannabis plant. GW Pharmaceuticals is licensed to grow vast quantities of cannabis for medical purposes, and it is from these plants that Sativex is made.
The production of a cannabis medicine on a pharmaceutical and industrial level means a lot of things. Firstly, Sativex is consistently manufactured with a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio. This level of consistency is generally difficult to reach when we are talking about cannabis products made by smaller (and definitely not pharmaceutical) companies.
The fact that Sativex actually contains THC and CBD is what makes it different among other pharmaceutical “cannabinoids”. Marinol is another cannabinoid medicine that is comparable to Sativex. However, it is made with synthetic cannabinoids hat mimic the activity of THC and CBD.
In a lot of ways, Sativex is very similar to other cannabis tinctures, sublingual sprays and oils that can be purchased in dispensaries. On the other hand, it’s manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, isn’t it? In a way, that makes it completely different to cannabis flowers, and somehow, a world away from what the medical cannabis industry is all about.
How to use Sativex
Sativex is a peppermint flavoured mouth spray that delivers 2.7mg of THC and 2.5mg of CBD with every 100 microlitre spray. It is absorbed under the tongue and through the gums and cheeks. Cannabinoids can reach the bloodstream much faster this way than if they were consumed via edibles.
Users of Sativex report pretty much the same side effects as people who use weed. At the end of the day, the user is still ingesting cannabinoids, one of which is psychoactive in nature, so the effects are comparable to using herbal weed. Some users report feelings of anxiety, paranoia and mood changes.
Who uses Sativex?
Interestingly, Sativex is available by prescription to lots of places where it is otherwise kind of illegal to use weed. Australia and France are perfect examples – it is legal to obtain Sativex via prescription, but the use of medical cannabis is still a no-no. So it’s fair to say that for the most part, Sativex is a cannabinoid medicine available to people who can’t grow their own weed for legal reasons.
With all of that being said, it’s not all that easy to get a prescription for Sativex in certain countries.
Each country has the power to decide what it will and will not be prescribed for. So in some places, there are only a handful of illnesses that are considered treatable with Sativex. And not every doctor endorses cannabinoid treatment. So, there are probably a lot of people in the world who are seeking Sativex without really being able to get their hands on it.
Sativex is most often prescribed to sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis, and the medicine was first intended for use with this condition. It is a therapeutic remedy for the muscle spasticity that is associated with MS. Although it is not a cure for MS, per se, it is a great tool for managing the symptoms, including spasms and pain.
In some countries, Sativex is also prescribed as a medicine for pain and sleep disturbances. The cannabinoid content probably makes it remarkable for treating pain, one of the most common reasons that people use cannabis at all.
Because Sativex was manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, it gets more recognition as a viable medicine. As much as cannabis enthusiasts can’t understand why cannabis doesn’t get the same recognition, that’s just the way it is. This is why GW Pharmaceuticals and their creation of Sativex is important for the cannabis industry. There is now a bridge between two worlds that was previously inconceivable.
Sativex vs. Marinol
Earlier in this article we mentioned Marinol, which is another kind of cannabinoid pharmaceutical. It is made with synthetic cannabinoids, as opposed to Sativex, which contains real THC and real CBD. The active ingredient in Marinol is dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC.
Interestingly, while Sativex became popular around Europe, the USA did not jump on board. Marinol, on the other hand, is approved by the US FDA.
While the immediate effects of Marinol might be really similar to Sativex, it’s important to talk about all the ways that they are different.
Whole plant medicine is conceivably different from synthetic medicine. One of the most important mechanisms of cannabis is the “entourage effect” itself, which is the combined efforts of all of the terpenoids, flavonoids and cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. As you can imagine, Marinol is something that lacks the entourage effect because it is not actually derived from the plant.
Marinol was first manufactured to treat the nausea and vomiting that is experienced by many cancer patients going through chemotherapy. It was also approved by the FDA to treat those with HIV/AIDS, as it can increase appetite in those who have undergone extreme weight loss.
While Marinol and Sativex might be used to treat many of the same symptoms, they are considerably different. Sativex is made out of plant material while Marinol is completely synthesised. This makes so much of a difference, as Sativex comprises an entire profile of compounds present in cannabis, while the components of Marinol were created to mimic the behaviour of just one of those compounds.
Epidiolex: the first FDA approved cannabis medicine
Believe it or not, GW Pharma is responsible for the first cannabis medicine that the FDA ever approved. Epidiolex is very similar to Sativex in that it is made out of real cannabinoids (in contrast to Marinol), but it does not contain THC.
The main objective for creating Epidiolex was to treat two severe forms of childhood epilepsy. Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome are two kinds of epilepsy that very rarely respond to traditional treatment.
The active ingredient in Epidiolex is cannabidiol (CBD). It is non-psychoactive, but is well-known for its ability to treat epilepsy related syndromes. The reason this medicine is better for children than Sativex is that it does not contain the psychoactive component, THC.
A clinical trial conducted with Epidiolex showed that children taking the medicine experienced a significant drop in seizures. They decreased by around 40% per month.
Sativex vs. Weed – The Pros & Cons of each
Sativex is to weed kind of what Marinol is to Sativex. It’s really close to the real thing, but is it actually the real thing? What’s so exciting about Sativex is that it is made from the whole plant, meaning that it really does contain all of the parts of cannabis that make it such a powerhouse medicine.
Why Sativex might be better than weed
The most obvious difference between Sativex and traditional cannabis extracts is the consistency in cannabinoid ratios. Pharmaceutical manufacture of medicine gives more of an opportunity for perfect consistency between products.
When we talk about tinctures and oils made by non-pharmaceutical companies, we obviously have to consider the variation between products, batches, strains and individual plants. The same goes for weed consumed in its herbal form for medical purposes.
For some people, this variation between products is what makes it hard to use medical cannabis. And for that, they might actually prefer Sativex. After all, the user can be guaranteed exact volumes of cannabinoids with each spray, making dosage easy.
Why weed might be better than Sativex
But it’s still not really weed, is it?
Cannabis in its herbal form is readily available in some states in the USA and in some parts of Europe. Self-medicating is much simpler than going through the medical system. One of the biggest disadvantages of Sativex is, for so many people, the fact that it is so difficult to get your hands on! The fact that it is owned by pharmaceutical companies and heavily regulated by the government makes it complicated to get.
For a lot of people, there’s also something very therapeutic about using the plant material itself. Some people smoke it, some people use it to make cannabutter and edibles, and some people make their own tinctures at home. Being in charge of what happens to the plant material before it enters the body is part of the medicinal benefit of the whole thing.
One of the most exciting things about the arrival of weed in modern industry is the fact that (almost) none of it has been touched by big pharmaceutical companies.
In fact, one of the biggest conspiracies when it comes to cannabis legalization is that it would put so many pharmaceutical companies in a strange position. One medicine that fixes so many things! For that reason, Sativex isn’t really exciting for a lot of cannabis users. It is created by big pharma, which so many cannabis users don’t want a part in.
Sativex and weed: same, but different
Sativex is big pharma’s spin on cannabis and as far as pharmaceutical cannabinoids go, it’s the closest thing to real weed. As we mentioned, synthetic cannabinoids such as Marinol are really no comparison to the effects of the true plant derivatives.
The only thing that makes Sativex really different from other concentrate products is that it is manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals. It’s not the small time local grower – it’s cannabis plantations bigger than most small-time growers have ever imagined. Aside from that, and the fact that it is only prescribed to a handful of people, we ARE talking about weed here. That’s what makes Sativex so unique as a pharmaceutical medication.
Finally, you never really know until you try it. While Sativex and weed might be the same in many respects, there still are so many differences. As is the case with any medicine, finding the right product and dosage for oneself is the most important thing.
Have you ever tried Sativex? Or even Sativex and weed? What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you!