A new Australian study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that medical cannabis can potentially help treat addiction… to cannabis.
Researchers found that a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and nabiximols (trade name Sativex) — an oral spray derived from the cannabis plant containing a 1:1 ratio of cannabinoids THC (the psychoactive, intoxicating component of cannabis) and CBD (a psychoactive but non-intoxicating component) — assisted in reducing the number of days patients with cannabis dependence consumed the drug by approximately 40 per cent compared to those in the placebo group.
The research was a “multisite, 12-week outpatient study” which recruited 128 participants from four substance abuse treatment facilities in New South Wales. All subjects were “seeking treatment,” “nonresponsive to prior treatment attempts,” between 18 and 64 years old, not diagnosed with any severe psychiatric conditions, not pregnant, not court-ordered to undergo treatment, and capable of giving informed consent.
Lead author Dr. Nicholas Lintzeris, a professor at the University of Sydney and director of drug and alcohol services for South East Sydney Local Health District believes that the results of the study are “pretty significant” – but hesitates to deem the therapy a cure-all.
“Cannabinoid agonist treatment is unlikely to be an approach relevant to all cannabis users seeking treatment, as evidenced by the large numbers of individuals who did not complete the study screening process, and the modest 12-week treatment retention rate,” reads the study’s conclusion. “Whereas nicotine-agonist and opioid-agonist treatments are considered front-line therapies, our findings suggest a more cautious approach for cannabinoid agonist treatment at this time. The control group demonstrated some benefits from treatment, confirming previous research that psychosocial interventions (CBT and case management) without medication can be effective for some patients.”
Researchers stress that further study is required, but write that the study suggests “cannabinoid agonist treatment to be a promising approach for treating patients with cannabis dependence, particularly for those who cannot sustain reductions in illicit cannabis use with counseling-only interventions, in a stepped care approach.”
Confusingly, researchers do not explain why consuming cannabis orally is preferable to smoking, vaping, eating, or drinking. They also didn’t acknowledge the potential discrepancy in cost between purchasing illicit cannabis and a prescription pharmaceutical.