Ever since it was revealed that some patients are replacing painkillers with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, the pharmaceutical industry has been hard at work to discover how it can profit from it. Some drug manufacturers have reportedly already taken the leap to producing cannabis-based pain relievers that they hope to bring to market in the near future.

Although there are not presently any FDA-approved cannabis-based painkillers being sold in pharmacies across the nation, the situation may soon change, as drug makers are being pressured, across the board, to come up with more alternatives to dangerous opioid medications. In fact, a report published last week by Reuters shows that pharmaceutical companies such as Axim Biotechnologies Inc, Nemus Bioscience Inc and Intec Pharma Ltd are in the midst of developing these types of medications.

“The companies are targeting the more than 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, and are dependent on opioid painkillers such as Vicodin, or addicted to street opiates including heroin,” the report reads.

However, it could be some time before your friendly neighborhood physician is able to prescribe cannabis painkillers.

Since marijuana is still considered a Schedule I dangerous drug under the Controlled Substances Act, a classification that ranks the herb as having “no medicinal value,” mean that obtaining FDA approval is not an easy task. In addition to the politics involved with gaining permission to experiment with cannabis medicine, it is going to take years of clinical trials before the FDA even considers allowing these kinds of drugs to go public.

Sadly, however, the pharmaceutical approach to legal marijuana may have a better shot of going national than the concept we have seen implemented on a state-by-state basis, in over half the nation. That’s because Congress does not have to change federal policy in order for Big Pharma to capitalize on legal weed. As we have seen in similar situations, such as with Insys Therapeutics and its pharmaceutical cannabinoid branded Syndros, all the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has to do is classify cannabis painkillers as a Schedule II or III, and they can become a part of the mainstream drug market.

Although medical marijuana is gaining ground in the healthcare community, many doctors in states where it is legal still want nothing to do with writing patient recommendations. They worry their involvement might lead to unwanted attention from the federal government. Yet, the second a pharmaceutical company brings a cannabis painkiller to market, this concern would cease to exist. Doctors would then have the freedom to write prescriptions for cannabis without fear that the DEA could swoop in and revoke their license…or worse.

But Big Phama’s plan to produce cannabis painkillers, in no way, means that opioid medications are at risk of becoming obsolete. Despite the dangers associated with these drugs, many patients argue that marijuana simply does not have enough strength to alleviate pain in the same way as opioids. This is especially true when it comes to those patients suffering from severe pain.

“Trauma and battlefield injuries could not be managed without the analgesic effects of opioids,” Roger Chriss, a Washington-based technical consultant, who suffers from a connective tissue disorder known as Ehlers Danlos syndrome, wrote in a recent article for Pain News Network. “The same is true for tens of thousands of cancer surgeries, organ transplants and hip replacements. And for the neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy or the pain of a sickle-cell crisis. The list goes on and on. Opioids are an invaluable medical resource.”

Nevertheless, it can be expected that cannabis painkillers will start hitting the market within the next decade.