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What is Marinol (Dronabinol)?
Marinol package

Marinol is pure, synthetic THC used to treat symptoms of nausea and appetite loss.

Marinol is a pharmaceutical form of THC, which can be used in place of cannabis. While it doesn’t have the wide variety of cannabinoids found in natural cannabis, it can provide relief for certain conditions.

Products like Marinol were originally created to get around the legal restrictions on marijuana. These products give doctors an alternative to marijuana that they may be more comfortable prescribing.

Currently, natural cannabis is more accessible than it was in the past, but there are certainly still uses for Marinol.

What is Marinol?

What is Marinol?
Chemical structure of THC (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Marinol, also known as dronabinol, is a synthetic form of THC created in a lab. It is federally approved for medical use in the US, but has been discontinued in Canada.

The product consists of pure THC dissolved in sesame oil, and it is given to the patient orally in pill form.

Marinol was first approved by the FDA in 1985 for nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. In 1992, it was approved for appetite and weight loss in HIV/AIDS. And in 1999, its drug classification was changed from Schedule 2 to Schedule 3.

THC taken orally is metabolized differently by the body, resulting in a longer, more intense high similar to that of marijuana edibles.

Since Marinol contains only THC and none of the other compounds found in cannabis, the psychoactive effects are stronger than they would be otherwise.

What is Marinol Used For?

What is Marinol Used For?
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Marinol can be used as a substitute for marijuana to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and AIDS-related appetite and weight loss. The THC in Marinol increases appetite and reduces nausea.

The benefits and side effects are a bit different than those of natural marijuana because THC is the sole active ingredient.

Nausea from Chemotherapy

Many people who are going through chemotherapy experience nausea and vomiting as a side effect of their treatment. THC is known to be an effective anti-nausea drug.

A 2001 study found that Marinol was an effective treatment for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Patients taking Marinol tended to prefer it to other anti-nausea drugs.

However, side effects were also noted. THC caused some patients to experience dysphoria, depression, and anxiety. Some of the patients who experienced these side effects had to withdraw from the study.

AIDS-Related Weight Loss

Many HIV/AIDS patients experience a loss of appetite, and subsequent weight loss. This is known as AIDS wasting syndrome. Marinol has been used with success to help HIV/AIDS patients eat more and gain weight.

In a 1995 study, patients with AIDS-related weight loss who were prescribed Marinol experienced increased appetite, an improvement in mood, and decreased nausea.

Patients who received Marinol experienced better outcomes compared to those who took a placebo. Those taking Marinol were able to maintain a stable weight, while those in the placebo group continued to lose weight.

Typical side effects of THC were reported. Some patients reported dizziness, abnormal thoughts, and euphoria or enhanced mood.

Non-Approved Uses

Aside from approved uses, Marinol has also been used in clinical trials for other medical conditions:

  • Chronic pain. A small trial found Marinol could alleviate pain in patients with chronic pain of various causes. Treatment with Marinol versus morphine showed similar effectiveness.
  • Multiple sclerosis. A small trial found Marinol could reduce neuropathic pain and improve quality of life in MS patients.
  • Sleep apnea. A pilot study found Marinol could reduce sleep-disordered breathing in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • ALS. A pilot study found Marinol could improve sleep and appetite in ALS patients.
  • Dementia. A small trial found Marinol could reduce disturbed behavior and stimulate weight gain in dementia patients.
  • Fibromyalgia. A small trial found Marinol could reduce pain in fibromyalgia patients.

What Is The Difference Between Marinol and Marijuana?

What Is The Difference Between Marinol and Marijuana
(Photo: Shutterstock)

There are a few key differences between Marinol and natural marijuana.

Marinol is a synthetic form of THC, meaning it is synthesized in a lab, rather than by the cannabis plant.

The THC in Marinol is also not exactly the same as the THC in natural cannabis. The two chemicals are stereoisomers, meaning they share the same chemical formula, but differ in how the elements are arranged in the molecule.

When Marinol is prescribed, patients receive a pill containing sesame oil and synthetic THC. Unlike marijuana, which has hundreds of chemical compounds, the only active ingredient in Marinol is THC.

Because of this, patients taking Marinol don’t get any of the benefits from the other compounds in marijuana. For example, terpenes and cannabinoids are thought to reduce the negative effects of THC, like the dizziness and anxiety that some patients experience.

A 2011 survey of 953 participants found that only 1.8% of respondents preferred THC pharmaceuticals to natural cannabis.

Drawbacks of Oral THC

There are a number of drawbacks to taking THC pharmaceuticals rather than natural marijuana. These include:

  • Delayed onset. A 2013 study found that smoking a joint took full effect within 15 minutes, while Marinol took 60-90 minutes to reach its peak.
  • Lack of dose flexibility. One of the major advantages of smoking a joint is what scientists call “self-titration” — the ability to adjust your dose instantly by taking additional puffs when necessary. On the other hand, the delay in onset of THC pills, combined with their extended action, makes it difficult and dangerous for patients to self-adjust their dose.
  • Side effects. Many patients in clinical trials reported side effects, like abnormal thoughts, dizziness, and anxiety. Natural marijuana contains other cannabinoids and terpenes which are thought to reduce the negative side effects of THC.


Marinol is a pharmaceutical THC pill that can be prescribed by a doctor. It’s been used to treat symptoms of nausea and appetite loss in conditions such as cancer and AIDS.

Since Marinol contains only THC, its side effects and potency are slightly different than those of natural cannabis.

While natural cannabis is preferred by many patients today, Marinol remains the only legal marijuana-based treatment in some countries.

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