The role of “Big Pharma” in healthcare is a contentious subject and one that’s working its way into discussions around the uses of CBD oil and plant medicine in general.
While there are certainly people on both sides of the debate who feel strongly about these issues, the situation is actually rather complex and nuanced.
CBD oil is growing in popularity and this has lead to increased interest in plant-based medicine. These ideological shifts have prompted many to wonder what it means for the future of CBD oil. Will Big Pharma restrict access and cause prices to skyrocket? Or will CBD oil remain an accessible plant-based supplement?
Let’s take a look at the good and bad of the pharmaceutical industry, and how it relates to CBD oil and you!
Although cannabidiol (CBD) and other herbal remedies are seeing a rise in popularity in Western culture, plant medicine is by no means a new trend. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that around four billion people use herbal medicine for their primary health care—that’s more than half the world's population!
So, why is this shift towards CBD oil and plant medicine taking hold in the West?
Pharmaceutical options, while often very effective, come with high costs both financially and physically. The rising prices of health insurance in the U.S. are pushing affordable health care out of reach for many people, leading them to look for alternatives. Naturally derived products like CBD oil tend to be cheaper, because they incur lower overheads in their production and exist in non-monopolized, competitive markets that keep their price points lower.
In terms of health risk, many prescription medications come with potentially damaging side effects. A study by the University of Toronto looked into the frequency of serious adverse drug reactions, collecting information from U.S. hospitals over a 30 year time period. The study found that patients had a 7% chance of having a drug reaction that required hospitalization, was permanently disabling, or resulted in death.
As dramatic as those numbers are, an even more significant number of people experience mild to moderate side effects from their medication. Read any information pamphlet that comes with a pharmaceutical product and the lengthy list of side effects or possible interactions is dizzying.
It’s no surprise then that people are becoming disenchanted with the convenience of pharmaceuticals and Big Pharma, and are instead looking to CBD oil and plant medicine for a safer, lower-priced, and all around gentler option.
“Big Pharma” is the nickname given to the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. There are a number of conspiracy theories related to Big Pharma, but for the purposes of this article, the term is used simply as a familiar reference to the pharmaceutical industry.
By federal law, CBD oil and other cannabis products are classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making its use illegal. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has, however, made an allowance for some CBD products, namely the medicine Epidiolex, to be given the more lenient Schedule 5 status, if they contain only trace amounts of THC and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Big Pharma is, so far, the only manufacturer of a Schedule 5 CBD oil product.
So why would the pharmaceutical industry be interested in CBD and other plant medicines? The cynic would say money. The optimist would say regulation. To get the clearest picture, we need to explore both.
Retail sales of herbal supplements in 2017 topped $8 billion in the U.S. alone, with CBD oil accounting for $358 million. Although it's not a large proportion at the moment, the meteoric rise of CBD oil is anticipated to change cannabidiol's contribution to the supplement industry's success. By 2022, over a period of just 5 years, CBD oil sales are expected to have increased five-fold, reaching $1.8 billion in the United States alone. That surely presents an enticing sector for the expansion of Big Pharma.
Allowing plant medicine to become the domain of the pharmaceutical industry is a controversial idea. The main concern around regulation is that Big Pharma will push smaller businesses out of the market, creating a CBD oil monopoly. This would be detrimental to the hundreds—possibly thousands—of small CBD oil producers making their living off the market today.
With the CBD oil market cornered, Big Pharma could easily push up prices, rendering it inaccessible to people with lower incomes. Already, Epidiolex, the medicine for children with epilepsy, comes in at a price of $32,500 per year.
One of the potential benefits of Big Pharma moving into plant medicine is that CBD oil can be better researched and regulated.
Pharmaceutical companies like Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals have been using their resources to advance the use of cannabinoids in medicine. Having already successfully created the aforementioned Epidiolex, and Sativex, a THC-CBD combination medication for multiple sclerosis sufferers, GW is already ahead of their Big Pharma competitors.
In order to gain approval for their cannabis-based prescriptions, GW and other Big Pharma companies have to produce conclusive research on the benefits of utilizing compounds like CBD and THC. The research produced is valuable for the manufacturer and consumer alike. Having reliable, scientific proof that plant-based medicine can produce beneficial results adds credibility to its use as a legitimate medical treatment option.
The legitimacy and authority established by researching supplements like CBD are jeopardized if the resulting products are not regulated. Without regulation, there is no control over the manufacturing process; it can be difficult to ensure what you’re buying is as safe and effective as the research showed.
If Big Pharma is able to push CBD oil products through the FDA clearance process it will become much easier to purchase quality CBD oil across the country. Only approved manufacturers will be able to make and distribute their CBD; shady manufacturers who may have been using harmful chemicals, insecticides, or dishonest business practices will be phased out.
The general consensus is that it’s likely that the FDA will loosen their stance on CBD oil in the near future, and with that, begin to regulate it. Will Big Pharma be the future of CBD oil though? It’s certain that CBD will begin to pop up in more and more pharmaceutical products. With its health benefits targeting everything from inflammation to anxiety, this is an ingredient that is sure to be capitalized on by drug manufacturers. Only time will tell if (and how) Big Pharma could impact your local dispensary or favorite CBD oil producer.
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