What Is Marinol?

Marinol is a branded version dronabinol, an FDA-approved cannabinoid that is used to treat anorexia in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and nausea and vomiting in cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

It is a synthetic version of THC, created in a lab using the same chemical formula as the psychoactive component but arranging the elements differently within the molecule. Other related brand include Syndros, Cesamet, Epidiolex.

These three, along with Marinol, are the only four FDA-approved cannabinoid medications in the US, though Nabiximols, an oral spray containing CBD and THC and commonly known as Sativex, has been endorsed by the American Academy of Neurology and could be soon approved to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis.  

doctor consulting a patient iStock / noipornpan

Side Effects

Marinol is typically only prescribed in severe circumstances, as it can have some pretty intense side effects. It shouldn’t be used by people who have a sesame oil allergy, as sesame oil is used in the capsules. Here are some other things you should be aware of if you’re interested in Marinol:

  • Any patients who have a history of serious psychiatric disorders should try other options before resorting to Marinol, as it tends to aggravate pre-existing schizophrenia, mania, or depression.
  • If you’re taking any drugs, especially those associated with psychiatric effects, as concomitant use is typically discouraged, particularly with drugs that with psychiatric or cardiac associations.
  • Marinol can cause or put patients at risk of hemodynamic changes like blood pressure, heart rate, and syncope.
  • The psychoactive effects of Marinol differ from patient to patient, but cognitive impairment and/or altered mental state is common in the elderly and other patients sensitive to neurological and psychoactive effects.
  • Marinol does have risk for addiction, so if you have a history of substance abuse, make sure your doctor knows so that they can monitor your condition and keep you safe.
  • People with a history of seizures should also be monitored closely while taking Marinol.
  • The most common adverse effects in Marinol’s clinical trials (≥3%) were “abdominal pain, abnormal thinking, dizziness, euphoria, nausea, paranoid reaction, somnolence, and vomiting.

If you’re in a position in which you’re considering taking Marinol, you’re probably already having frequent conversations with your doctor about your health risks and opportunities to alleviate your symptoms. Marinol is typically used for more severe conditions than your typical medical marijuana, so just make sure your doctor is aware of your medical history, allergies, current medications, and other health issues before they prescribe you Marinol.

Marinol vs. Cannabis

Though Marinol contains THC, it’s similarities to marijuana are limited, as it does not contain hundreds of compounds and terpenes that the plant does. For instance, Marinol does not contain CBD, which is one of if not the most medically beneficial components of marijuana.

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Smoking natural cannabis allows you to reap the psychoactive benefits of THC as well as the anti-inflammatory advantages of CBD. Marinol won’t provide this combination.

Though it’s federally permitted, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option within the cannabis family. Here at Wikileaf, we think that natural cannabis is miles better than any synthetic version, and many experts agree.

In 2001, Lester Grinspoon, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, claimed he had never come across a patient in which Marinol was more preferable or effective as actual cannabis. The next year, the University of Arizona School of Medicine’s Andrew Weil denounced Marinol for having higher intoxication effects and fewer medical benefits than natural marijuana. Though studies on natural cannabis have been relatively limited, most have found it to be effective in relieving pain.

Studies on Marinol, on the other hand, have been conducted to research its effect on post-surgical, nerve-related, and chronic non-cancer pain. There has yet to be a study that decisively shows its ability to relieve these kinds of pains significantly more than a placebo.

The main symptoms that Marinol has been proven to actually improve are nausea and loss of appetite, particularly in HIV, AIDS, and cancer patients, which natural cannabis also remedies effectively. Marinol has been discontinued in Canada, where natural marijuana is federally legal for medicinal and recreational use.

In the US, it continues to be a profitable drug for Unimed. Real marijuana allows you to adjust your personal dosage, avoid severe side effects, and keep your remedies natural. And it’s typically more effective! If you live in a state that hasn’t legalized medical marijuana, it’s possible that Marinol is your best option. But before you accept that prescription, ask your doctor about other THC-related options.

A Brief History of Marinol

It was more or less invented by Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni in Israel in 1964 when they isolated THC for the first time in history,  and the National Cancer Institute started conducting studies on synthetic THC in 1980 by testing it on cancer patients in San Francisco.

The NCI, along with six other states, conducted studies on marijuana and THC, most of which came to the conclusion that natural marijuana was safer and more effective than its synthetic clone. The US government sold the Marinol patent to a company called Unimed in 1981, who spent the next four years studying the drug and applying for permission to sell the drug as anti-nausea medication.

In 1985, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)approved Marinol but not natural marijuana. In 1992, it was further authorized to be used as a treatment for anorexia in patients with AIDS.

Today it is available and legal in all 50 states but requires a prescription. It’s classified as a Schedule III Controlled Substance, is covered by many insurance plans, though generic dronabinol costs about $250 and brand-name Marinol can cost 3x as much. It is administered orally through 2.5mg, 5mg and/or 10mg dose capsules that contain THC dissolved in sesame oil.