Finding the Right Dose
A skin patch to deliver meds is in the works—and could be available by year’s end
By Paul Rogers
First the good news: a medical marijuana skin patch is imminent, according to the company that is developing this potentially revolutionary product. The not-so-good news is that, although Medical Marijuana Delivery Systems (MMDS), LLC hopes to have the patch available in dispensaries by the end of this year (under the trade name TETRACAN), a prototype has yet to surface and so far there’s been no detailed information provided about its function or effects.
The TETRACAN tale starts with Walter Cristobal, a prominent member of the Santa Ana Pueblo Tribe of New Mexico. In the 1990s, while seeking to alleviate his mother’s arthritis pain, Cristobal started developing a topical solution that could deliver the therapeutic benefits of marijuana through the skin. In 2000, he was awarded a U.S. patent for “a transcutaneous [i.e. through-the-skin] therapeutic formulation comprising marijuana and a carrier for the treatment of pain, inflammation, HYPERLINK “http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/6132762.html” arthritis and related disorders in humans and animals.”
Cristobal lacked the time and infrastructure to bring his product to market, so when business partners Chester Soliz and Jim Alekson learned of his patent, the trio formed MMDS—“a company devoted to the advancement, research and development of marijuana delivery modalities”—last year. As well as the medical marijuana patch, MMDS hopes to develop other new medical marijuana delivery systems like creams, gels and oils aimed at patients seeking chronic pain management.
“[TETRACAN is] one of the first true departures, in a very definable, differentiated way, from the traditional way of delivering the therapeutic value, if you will, of marijuana,” says Alekson.
In theory, a medical marijuana patch—which would function much like existing nicotine or pain-relief patches—could be a super-efficient, super-convenient way for the human body to absorb cannabis. While studies suggest that smoking only delivers half the THC, a patch could deliver cannabis’ pain-relieving compounds in much more concentrated (and controlled) dosages.
But for now, the TETRACAN patch—while promising—remains a work-in-progress.
“We’re in the process of perfecting it,” Alekson explains.
Even so, MMDS could, theoretically, realize their stated goal of having TETRACAN on dispensary shelves by year’s end. Being a naturally-derived substance—as opposed to a synthetic pharmaceutical drug—it wouldn’t require the years of rigorous testing required for FDA approval. Once TETRACAN goes on sale, MMDS intends to gather feedback from users and sellers in order to fine-tune its optimum dosage.
While none of the men behind MMDS use cannabis, they remain focused on an alternative to smoking marijuana in “jurisdictions which accept TETRACAN as a holistic, therapeutic adjunctive for management of chronic pain due to arthritis, the side effects of chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis and other chronic conditions.”
There’s undoubtedly major interest in the idea of a medical marijuana patch (within weeks of MMDS announcing its acquisition of patent rights to the product earlier this year, there were over 73,000 online media postings of their press release, according to Alekson) and MMDS certainly has intriguing ambitions. Only time will tell if TETRACAN can make the daunting leap from well-intentioned idea to tangible reality and become a significant step towards marijuana’s evolution as medicine.
On Native Soil
Native Americans are no strangers to using holistic, natural plants for religious and medicinal reasons. Members of the Native American Church are exempt from federal penalties for using peyote (a powerful, hallucinogenic cactus) for traditional ceremonies. The church originated in Oklahoma and was introduced to tribes in North America in the 1880s. A typical peyote ritual—which is believed to facilitate communion with God and the deceased—involves prayer, eating the psychedelic portions of the cactus, songs and contemplation.