As more states (and even countries) are joining the cannabis legalization movement, it is becoming more evident that more people are likely to be diagnosed with cannabis dependence disorder. However fun and not-that-much-of-a-problem it may seem to be to some, cannabis is capable of causing addiction, and withdrawal symptoms often prevent weed consumers from dropping the habit.
As of this moment, it remains unclear how many of all cannabis users suffer from the disorder. To some extent, this lack of clarity is explained by varying practices (for instance, when it is combined with tobacco). There is evidence suggesting that there can be as many as one third of such patients, and the total number of people with the disorder is estimated at 13 mln people the world over.
Today, there is no medication offered by treatment facilities that can help overcome addition – despite the large numbers of people admitted for disorder treatment (in 2016, there were over 250,000 of them). Cannabis use disorder usually leads to social and functional impairment, causes addiction with withdrawal symptoms upon trying to stop using it, and promotes risky behavior. Among the most common withdrawal symptoms are insomnia, depression, irritability and anger, inability to stop using cannabis due to cravings, poor appetite, etc. The only options currently available at treatment facilities are substitution therapies of various kinds, but they can exacerbate the situation and increase the risk of relapse or cause another addition. Until now, there was no effective drug that could help patients overcome the problem.
In a recent study, a team of researchers from Yale University reported that they had tested a new drug that proved to be effective at cannabis dependence treatment.
In total, 70 male volunteers took part in the experiment. There were no women enrolled as it was not known whether the novel drug is toxic to females. All of them smoked cannabis a lot – three or more joints daily. The drug efficacy is based on the FAAH enzyme inhibition and the effects of anandamine, build-ups of which are formed as a result of taking the drug.
The researchers measured the participants’ cannabis use (by detecting it in their urine) and sleep patterns. After the volunteers were given the experimental drug, the scientists asked them to assess their cravings (whether they subsided), mood, and quality of sleep.
As a result, those who got the real pill, not the placebo, reported that their sleep had improved, and depression and anxiety abated. In the placebo group, abstinence led to less deep sleep, whereas the quality of sleep in the group of those who took the drug improved.
A lot to research
Other effects of the drug, such as whether it benefits other aspects of withdrawal symptom prevention, whether memory improves, whether the effect is long-lasting enough to be used in long-term treatment programs, etc., have yet to be researched. But even now this drug is deemed innovative, and its effect on sleep is not the only reason for it. Unlike THC, the chemical that is to blame for the getting-high effect, FAAH inhibitors are devoid of psychoactive effects, which means that it is unlikely that patients will start abusing them.
Now that marijuana use is becoming widespread – with legislation efforts contributing to the trend significantly – it is of great importance to find new ways to counter the effects of introducing another bad habit, which is capable of causing addiction, to a wide audience.