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An employee holds bottles of Epidiolex, a cannabinoid-based medicine, at the GW Pharmaceuticals facility in Sittingbourne, England. Epidiolex is among just a handful of cannabis-based drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States. The United Kingdom is the biggest producer of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, according to the United Nations. Jason Alden / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The debate over the health effects of cannabis has been polarizing for many years. Only in the past couple of decades has the substance been legally used for medicinal purposes. Currently, there are four cannabis-related drug products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

They are Marinol, Syndros and Cesamet, which contain synthetic cannabinoids; and Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved drug that contains cannabis. 

The Cannabis Question is a series exploring questions about proposals to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin.

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Marinol was first approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy but now  includes the treatment of weight loss and anorexia in people with HIV. As a result, the drug is a Schedule III drug, meaning it has an accepted medicinal use. Syndros was approved for the same indications as Marinol.

Cesamet mimics the effects of THC, the psychotropic ingredient in cannabis. It has been approved for chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting and as such, is a Schedule II drug. 

In June, Illinois lawmakers voted to join 10 other states plus the District of Columbia in legalizing recreational marijuana. A total of 33 states plus D.C. have legal medical marijuana. Legalization of recreational marijuana use in Illinois takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. Alisa Ivanitskaya / Wisconsin Watch

Epidiolex is approved by the FDA for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two severe and difficult-to-treat forms of childhood-onset epilepsy. Epidiolex is a Schedule V drug, the least restrictive classification in the Controlled Substances Act.

There are some cannabis-derived drugs that are not yet approved in the United States, including Sativex, a combination spray of THC and cannabidiol.

Sativex combines equal quantities of THC and CBD from two cannabis extracts. This product, which is sprayed inside the cheek or under the tongue, has been approved to alleviate the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, including muscle spasms and neuropathic pain. Sativex has been approved in 25 countries outside of the United States, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

This story was produced as part of an investigative reporting class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication under the direction of Dee J. Hall, Wisconsin Watch’s managing editor. Wisconsin Watch’s collaborations with journalism students are funded in part by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW-Madison. The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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