The rising popularity of cannabis seems to be all good news but there’s a side to cannabis use that most manufacturers and industry professionals don’t want to acknowledge. Just like any other controlled substance, there is a risk for use disorder among cannabis users. As cannabis becomes more accessible, there may be increased cases of cannabis use disorder. But, treatment may come from an unexpected place – cannabis itself.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 30 percent will develop some degree of “marijuana use disorder. “ People who begin using cannabis before the age of 18 are four times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder, according to NIDA.
What does cannabis use disorder look like? Of course, cannabis use disorder appears differently in each individual but it is generally described as when a person takes higher and more frequent doses, at a rate which interferes with their daily lives. It can lead to cannabis dependence, which occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters.
Cannabis use disorder affects about 9 percent of people who use marijuana regularly. Healthline reports that in 2015, about 4 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder; 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment for their marijuana use.
But a potential treatment may come from an unexpected source. According to a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, nabiximols offer therapeutic benefits to people with cannabis use disorder. Nabiximols are equal parts cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), ironically derived from the substance the participants were trying to use less of.
In the study participants self-administered an oral spray of nabiximols over the course of the 12-week study, they also participated in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Researchers say that the drug reduced cannabis withdrawal symptoms in a short-term, in-hospital treatment program, and held promising results for long term treatment as well. As noted in the research brief, there are currently no known drugs to aid in the treatment of cannabis use disorder.
Nabiximols have also been shown to be effective at treating neurological pain, most commonly related to cancer. There are no current studies exploring the potential for using nabiximols in alcohol or other substance use disorders. But this combination of cannabis-derived drug and CBT may be an effective treatment option.
As the authors acknowledge, there are many promising applications for nabiximols but more research needs to be conducted on how to best administer and dose this product. As with all cannabis-related research, scientists often come up against federal regulations when trying to study cannabis or cannabis-derived products.