Fentanyl Maker Insys Is Running CBD Clinical Trials

Published on October 10, 2016 · Last updated January 6, 2022

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 ClinicalTrials.gov, 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 ClinicalTrials.gov 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.

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Nick Jikomes, PhD
Nick Jikomes, PhD
Nick is Leafly's Director of Science & Innovation and holds a PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard University and a B.S. in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the host of a popular science podcast, Mind & Matter: https://mindandmatter.substack.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @trikomes
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