"Marijuana, in the scheme of things, is a relativity safe drug," Bernstein said. "Even as a smokeable drug of abuse, it's relatively safe…compared to cocaine or heroin."
However, Villarreal noted that for people with psychiatric disorders, smoking marijuana has been shown to make the patients' mental problems worse. It's possible Sativex may also cause this problem in some patients, he said.
Could it help patients?
So far, the studies that have been conducted do not provide enough evidence to say Sativex is effective in improving pain symptoms, Villarreal said.
Sativex has mainly been tested as a drug to treat pain caused by damaged nerves. If the drug is approved by the FDA, Villarreal speculated, its use could be restricted to certain pain patients. Those with cancer pain that is not caused by damaged nerves may not be candidates for the drug, Villarreal said.
About 1 in 11 people who try pot end up addicted to it, Haney said. It would be interesting to study whether Sativex could help people in dependent marijuana users quit the drug, she said.
Pass it on: Because it takes longer for people to get high from an oral form of marijuana, there is little potential for abuse of a marijuana-based mouth spray.
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