Could Cannabis-Based Meds Help Treat Cannabis Dependency?

By Paul Gaita 08/16/19

Researchers believe cannabis-based medicine could have a similar effect in cannabis-dependent patients as nicotine replacement therapy.

cannabis-based meds
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The results of a new study suggest that cannabis-based medication could prove useful in treating patients who are seeking help with dependency on cannabis.

Researchers from the Universities of Sydney, Tasmania and New South Wales, as well as health districts throughout Australia, claimed in the study that nabiximols, a cannabis concentrate containing equal amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) and THC could have a similar effect in cannabis-dependent patients as nicotine replacement therapy, which provides nicotine to individuals seeking to quit tobacco use, but without any of its harmful chemical content. 

According to the researchers' findings, a course of nabiximols given to study participants over a period of 12 weeks resulted in "significantly fewer days of illicit cannabis use," as well as fewer health-related side effects.

Nabiximols, sold by GW Pharmaceuticals under the brand name Sativex, has been used primarily in Australia to treat symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, including neuropathic pain and spasticity. It is currently approved for use in over 25 countries worldwide, but not the United States.


However, one of GW's cannabis-based medications, Epidiolex, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat two types of rare epileptic syndromes in 2018.

The study, published on July 15 in JAMA Internal Medicine, detailed the randomized clinical trial used by the researchers to determine their findings, which utilized 128 participants (30 women and 98 men) at four outpatient alcohol and drug treatment services in New South Wales, Australia. 

The participants, all between 18 and 64 years of age, were seeking treatment for cannabis dependency—defined in the DSM-V as a "problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress"—who had been nonresponsive to prior treatment attempts and had no other substance use disorder or medical or psychiatric conditions.

Over the course of 12 weeks, the patients either received a nabiximols spray up to 32 times per day each week, or a placebo spray. Both applications were combined with cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic support.

The Results

According to the study's findings, the patients that received the nabiximols spray reported fewer days of cannabis use than the placebo group, and suppression of withdrawal and cravings. Both groups showed "comparable" improvements in health status, and tolerated the medication with few negative side effects. 

The researchers reported their findings as a successful attempt to demonstrate the viability of nabiximols as a treatment for cannabis dependency.

"We've never had the evidence before that medication can be effective in treating [it]," said lead author Nick Lintzeris. "This is the first big study to show this is a safe and effective approach."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.