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Fentanyl Maker Insys Is Running CBD Clinical Trials

October 10, 2016
Insys Therapeutics, manufacturer of the synthetic opioid medication fentanyl, made headlines recently when it donated half a million dollars to the anti-cannabis legalization effort in Arizona. Fentanyl is a potent and highly addictive pain killer helping fuel the country’s opioid epidemic and skyrocketing overdose rates.

Presumably, Insys is funding anti-legalization efforts because legal cannabis represents a threat to its bottom line: medical cannabis can be an alternative to opioids for pain management, and states with medical marijuana laws are seeing lower rates of opioid abuse. In addition, there is evidence that plant cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) may be useful for treating opioid dependence. So it seems clear why a pharmaceutical company specializing in the sale of a synthetic opioid would oppose cannabis legalization.

But there’s more to it than that.

Insys is currently running a number of clinical trials investigating the use of cannabis-based therapies for a variety of ailments. If you go to, a website run by the NIH, you can search through ongoing clinical trials in the U.S. based on disease, location, and who’s funding it. If you search “Insys,” a couple of things pop out: they’re running lots of trials to study fentanyl, and lots of trials to study cannabidiol (CBD).

CBD is non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in Cannabis, which we know is non-addictive and has wide-ranging therapeutic potential. Insys seems to know this as well, since they’re running CBD trials to treat everything from treatment-resistant child epilepsy to over-eating symptoms associated with Prader-Willi Syndrome (a rare genetic disorder). Search for, “Insys cannabidiol” on and take a look for yourself.

Insys is currently recruiting patients for a trial titled, “Characterization of the Analgesic Effect of CBD in Healthy, Normal Volunteers”. We already know that medical cannabis can be effective for treating pain, and CBD may be one of the key compounds underlying this effect. Animal studies have also told us that CBD specifically may have analgesic properties, and that it may be useful for treating addiction.

So it’s no surprise that a corporation like Insys is funding the anti-legalization effort in Arizona. Legal adult-use cannabis represents a competitive threat to sales of their flagship narcotic (fentanyl) and the Cannabis-based therapies they’re trying to develop. Voters should take note of who is opposing legalization efforts in their state, and why.

The case of Insys gives us yet another reason to support legalization this November.

Cooper ZD, Comer SD, Haney M. Comparison of the analgesic effects of dronabinol and smoked marijuana in daily marijuana smokers. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(10):1984-92.
Ellis RJ, Toperoff W, Vaida F, et al. Smoked medicinal cannabis for neuropathic pain in HIV: a randomized, crossover clinical trial. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009;34(3):672-80.
Joy JE, Watson SJ, and Benson JA. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. The National Academies Press. 1999. PDF
Jensen B, Chen J, Furnish T, Wallace M. Medical Marijuana and Chronic Pain: a Review of Basic Science and Clinical Evidence. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2015;19(10):50.
Kim JH, Santaella-tenorio J, Mauro C, et al. State Medical Marijuana Laws and the Prevalence of Opioids Detected Among Fatally Injured Drivers. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(11):2032-2037. PDF

Nick Jikomes's Bio Image

Nick Jikomes

Nick is Leafly's principal research scientist and holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University and a B.S. in genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been a professional cannabis researcher and data scientist since 2016.

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  • snow_watcher

    Thanks for the CBD series and the investigative reporting.

  • Thorvid

    Once again the duplicity of big pharma is exposed.

    It appears they all subscribe to the belief:

    ‘natural cannabis has no medical value, and everyone that uses it is a criminal. It’s only medication if we extract, distill and mix it and sell it at 500 times the cost of the natural plant’

    It’s disgusting they way these people are allowed to produce drugs like fentanyl that are deadly and highly addictive, and massively monetise a natural product that helps millions of people day to day safely.
    It’s all about power and money, screw the health and wellbeing of patients.

    • Greg Prichard

      Amen…well said!

  • Greg Prichard

    Here we go… They hear money. A medicine freely given by nature will be taken from us for money.

  • Juan Dope

    Coincidentally, the feds were about to go after Kratom, which has one use and one use only: opioid withdrawals, until the manufacturer producing garbage-level Kratom for tobacco shop retailers spoke up as a friend of the corporate capitalist system.

    If you cant make the connection, you’re delusional.

    Insys plans on a synthetic Cannabinoid. Like K2 you ask? Exactly.

    Just another poorly ran company that missed the boat on the new perpetual money making racket in Az.

    In case you don’t know. CBD oil has always been legal, yet we have families relocating to “mmj states” and paying more than gold for hemp oil?

    The whole thing is an ignorance and trend based racket. Regulation is the worst thing to happen to Cannabis. I go to jail for growing, but the card i purchased for hundreds of dollars allows me to purchase untested chemically altered mafia-grown warehouse BlueDream sprayed with flavored pesticides for 480 an ounce. And CBD is sold for twice the price of an Amazon seller. BECAUSE CORPORATIONS LOVE IGNORANCE.

    Anyone preaching regulation is a capitalist pig. These articles are disgusting.