Dronabinol vs. Cannabis: What’s the Difference?


In 1985 MARINOL (known as dronabinol in its generic form) was released into the pharmaceutical market. It was approved for use in 1985 as a way to treat weight loss for AIDS patients and to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients across the nation. However, something about this product stood out considerably compared to other similar products on the market – this FDA approved product was composed of synthetic THC molecules.

What is Dronabinol?

Dronabinol is a synthetic form of cannabis used to treat cancer and AIDS patients. It was created by making a chemical equivalent of delta-9-THC. It is similar to THC in that it helps to relieve pain and promotes weight gain by increasing an individual’s appetite. However, there are several key differences between dronabinol and cannabis.

Side Effects

Most cannabis enthusiasts have encountered a ‘THC overdose’ at one time or another when they first began their  use of the plant. The most common experiences caused by an overindulgence of THC are the inability to sleep, rapid heartbeat, and paranoid thoughts. However, after a few hours these effects go away and people are able to resume their normal activities.

With dronabinol it’s a completely different story.

To start, swallowing a pill full of dronabinol is less effective than smoking a joint. But even though this method of ingestion is less effective, the side effects can be much more severe. The psychoactive side effects of dronabinol can be much more harsh and prolonged than that of the cannabis plant. It has been known to cause short term memory loss, weakness, heart palpitations, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and abnormal thinking as a common side effect. More severe side effects include eye problems, muscle pain, speech problems, ringing in the ears, low blood pressure, and incontinence.

The bottom line is that dronabinol only manages to capture a few of the benefits associated with the cannabis plant and causes a lot of issues that the majority of cannasuers will never have to worry about.


With dronabinol, patients only have one form of medication they can use to treat their condition. With cannabis, there are a multitude of different strains and product variations that a patient can choose from to treat their medical condition. Cannabis consumers have the option of choosing their THC to CBD ration with strains and products falling all along the spectrum. The array of cannabis products can be smoked, vaporized, eaten, rubbed, sprayed, and more.

Dosage Options

Patients prescribed dronabinol have the option of taking a 2.5 mg doses, 5 mg doses, and 10 mg doses.

Medical cannabis patients can choose any dosage that they’d like depending on what type of relief their condition requires, and what their personal tolerance level is. This is especially beneficial for patients who experience extreme and consistent pain from their conditions because they can tailor their dosage to fit their needs.


This is one of the biggest differences between patients prescribed dronabinol and patients who are able to use medical cannabis.

Dronabinol is extremely expensive. It is typically sold in a pack of 60 capsules that will last for approximately two months (typically one capsule is taken per day). The prices for MARINOL (the original form of dronabinol) are as follows:

A pack of 60 capsules with a 2.5 mg strength (150 mg total) are available for sale for about $690.00.

A pack of 60 capsules with a 5 mg strength (300 mg total) are available for sale for about $1,430.00.

A pack of 60 capsules with a 10 mg strength (600 mg total) are available for sale for about $2,620.00.


In contrast, you can walk into a dispensary and buy a pre-rolled joint with 1 g of cannabis for $10-$20. In case you’re curious about the math, the average dispensary pre-rolled joint has about 750 mg of cannabinoid. This is assuming that the strain in question has a THC concentration of 12%. However, thanks to research and technology done in the cannabis world many strains can now reach THC concentrations of 25% and above. These joints can last for days or weeks depending on a patient’s needs and do not come with the many negative side effects associated with dronabinol.

With numbers like this, it’s easy to understand why access to medical cannabis is an important topic for many cancer and AIDS patients. With medical cannabis, they are able to access more reliable treatment at a fraction of the cost and have the ability to tailor their treatment to their needs.

 Not to mention that having the real, natural plant is beyond better than anything synthetic.

When it comes down to it, medical cannabis offers far more benefits than its federally approved rival, dronabinol. And when medical cannabis has so many positive health benefits and is so affordable to the general population, the question Americans should be asking is ‘Why are we granted access to dronabinol at a federal level but not medical cannabis?’


Sierra Donovan

1 comment

  1. Avatar
    rndm 2 October, 2018 at 10:56 Reply

    There’s even a medical flower which contains Dronabinol. Guess it’s just a fake weed then, like Spice and every other trash mixed with research chemical. Cash rules everything around me…

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