A new study suggests that a cannabis-based medication used to treat multiple sclerosis could also be an effective treatment for cannabis use disorder (a.k.a. cannabis addiction).
The study involved administering the cannabis-based drug nabiximols - an oral spray - to a group of participants who struggled with cannabis use disorder. After taking the spray for 12 weeks, participants had significantly reduced their cannabis consumption compared to the placebo group.
"The majority of people in the nabiximols group either stopped using or dramatically reduced their use, maybe down to two, three, four days a month, whereas in the placebo arm, we found many people continued to use most days—four, five, six days [a week]," Nicholas Lintzeris - the study's lead author - told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Those positive results had lasting effects for the participants. When the researchers followed up with the participants 12 weeks after they stopped taking nabiximols, many of the patients avoided relapsing into heavier cannabis use.
"What was really encouraging was that we were actually able to demonstrate that most patients used the medication for a short period of time ... and then they were able to make those changes in their lives, come off the medication and not relapse," Lintzeris said. "That was really encouraging because I think that means we’ve got a viable treatment model."
However, there is at least one major drawback for this kind of treatment for cannabis use disorder: cost. Nabiximols isn't cheap. In fact, it can cost MS patients AU$745 (US$523) for a mere six to eight weeks of treatment.
Still, Lintzeris' work is an "important contribution" to the study of cannabis addiction, said Michael Farrell of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, who was not involved with the study. Farrell believes that researchers can build on Lintzeris' work and develop a more affordable treatment for cannabis use disorder.
"I think it needs more research before it would be automatically translated into practice, but it doesn't mean that other possibly more affordable forms of this type of medication might be developed," Farrell said.
Medical marijuana is already being considered as a treatment to other kinds of addiction, namely alcoholism and opioid use disorder. However this new study appears to be among the first to show that medical marijuana may actually help people with problematic cannabis habits.