DEA Classifies Synthetic THC Drug As Schedule II

The designation classifies Syndros, a synthetic cannabinoid, as less dangerous than actual weed.

This week, nine months after the Food and Drug Administration granted approval on an application filed by Arizona pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, for Syndros––an oral-spray solution that contains dronabinol, the synthetic THC-substitute––the Drug Enforcement Administration classified Syndros as Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act. 

The DEA designation has Syndros in a class of drugs considered to be less dangerous than actual weed. And the company saw a resulting rise in its stock price following the DEA's decision.

Syndros is a sublingually administered dronabinol mouth spray, while Marinol is a pill that contains the same substance. Syndros was approved for use in treating pain, nausea, and suppressed appetite in people suffering from AIDS or the eating disorder anorexia––two conditions that in some states would qualify for medical marijuana. So why isn’t it on the same CSA tier as actual weed? Though Syndros is not considered to be as “dangerous” as cannabis (according to the DEA filing in the Federal Register), the mouth-spray is more easily and likely to be abused than even its dronabinol-containing counterpart, Marinol.

“Syndros, unlike Marinol, can be manipulated such that the dronabinol can be evaporated into residues that can be reconstituted for smoking or abused intravenously. According to HHS, Syndros contains a large amount of dronabinol (150 mg of dronabinol in 30 mL of solution) and would be an easily accessible source for abuse via the oral route.”

So, theoretically, users could smoke concentrated Syndros from foil, or inject the drug as if it were heroin. Insys Therapeutics also produces a powerful fentanyl-based sublingual mouth-spray called Subsys. 

For context, fentanyl is the opioid more potent than morphine and heroin, and responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. The drug is commonly cut into heroin by dealers to elicit a stronger, often fatal high, and is said-to-be partly responsible for fueling the country’s opioid crisis. Former Insys executives have even been accused of bribing doctors to prescribe its fentanyl product.

As reported by VICE news:

“Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts charged Michael Babich, the 40-year-old former CEO of Insys Therapeutics, with conspiracy to commit racketeering and a range of other crimes related to sales of Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray intended for cancer patients experiencing severe pain. . . Under Babich and the other executives, Insys allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes and kickbacks to doctors who operated pain clinics in exchange for the physicians prescribing the company’s fentanyl product to non-cancer patients.”

Still, the company’s stock value rose following Syndros’ DEA classification. Though speculators say the jump in stock-price could have indeed been greater, Insys will still likely report revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the Motley Fool, “Insys still should be on track to post revenue of around $235 million for 2016,” amid declining Subsys sales, and despite the fact that Syndros won’t even be on the market until later this year.

Where advocates for medical marijuana treatments over the use of pharmaceutical medications might find reason for concern is that Insys donated 10 percent of the total funds, or $500,000, to Arizonans For Responsible Drug Policy, an opposition group that worked to defeat Proposition 205, Arizona’s failed 2016 recreational marijuana initiative.

The Insys donation to the group is strange behavior for a company that claims it “firmly believes in the potential clinical benefits of cannabinoids.”

Meanwhile, whole-plant cannabis remains as illegal as a drug can get, classified as Schedule I, a designation that prevents more in-depth research on the plant from going down.