Scientists Test Marijuana Extract as Treatment for Marijuana Addiction

By May Wilkerson 05/08/15

One potential treatment could be derived from marijuana itself.

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Could the solution to marijuana addiction be… marijuana?

In recent years, there has been a rise in people seeking help for marijuana misuse and addiction, leading researchers to explore possible treatments. One such treatment may involve a compound found in marijuana itself.

The compound, called cannabidiol, was successful in treating one person who was severely addicted, researchers explained at the British Neuroscience Association meeting in Edinburgh last month.

The test subject was a 19-year-old woman in Brazil who was able to quit daily pot use after doctors gave her a synthetic cannabidiol treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms back in 2012. A team of researchers at University College London is now conducting a clinical trial of the treatment on a group of 48 people.

"We shouldn't overstate the results of a single case," said Tom Freeman, who is involved in the trial. "But it's going to be exciting to see what happens with this study."

Since marijuana is considered a relatively “soft” drug, addiction and misuse are often overlooked by medical professionals. Unlike other forms of drug addiction, there is currently no approved medical treatment to help people wean off pot.

"Cannabis dependence is a huge unmet need with no pharmacological treatments," said Freeman. "It's vital we get one."

Though rates of marijuana addiction remain relatively unknown, a U.S. study from the 1990s found that about 9% of regular users become dependent. This would suggest it’s a relatively non-habit-forming substance compared to other drugs.

But the fact that pot is considered benign could up the risk of dependence. "The perception is that it's fine, but we shouldn't underestimate its habit-forming potential,” said Luke Mitcheson, who treats drug users at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

In the past decade, the number of people seeking help for their marijuana use is rising, especially among teens. This may be in part because the marijuana available has higher levels of THC, the compound that gets you high. Prolonged exposure to THC can cause the brain to release less of its natural version of the chemical, called anandamide, leading to withdrawal symptoms if a heavy user tries to quit.

This is why cannabidiol might help, since it boosts the brain’s levels of anandamide. Researchers are also exploring the possibility of using pure THC as a form of substitution therapy. However, this would still leave users hooked on THC.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.