A Possible Aid for Cannabis Withdrawal?
GW Pharmaceuticals has produced a medicine—Nabiximols (Sativex)—that has been found to lessen the severity of cannabis withdrawal symptoms. A team of Australian researchers, headed by Dr. David J. Allsop, claims that this new medicine is paving the way for further development of a cannabinoid replacement therapy, a similar concept to nicotine replacement therapy.1
Allsop said, “Similar to nicotine withdrawal, cannabis withdrawal is known to contribute to relapse in individuals trying to quit cannabis, and this medication is the first whole cannabis extract tested for helping these people.”1
He added, “Such a medication would be highly clinically relevant as there are currently no approved medicines for cannabis dependence, yet cannabis is the second most prevalent reason for treatment seeking, after alcohol, in most countries, including the U.S. and Australia.”1
Originally developed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Sativex was found to have an effect on cannabis use.1 Sativex was studied in 51 cannabis-dependent patients who were randomized to a six-day regimen of nabiximols or placebo.1 All 51 underwent standardized psychosocial interventions during a nine-day admission.1
Results showed a 66 percent reduction in cannabis withdrawal symptoms in patients who were given Sativex, compared to a 52 percent increase in withdrawal symptoms in those who were given a placebo.1
Allsop said, “A 20 percent change is often considered a rough rule of thumb for clinically relevant effects, so we are observing reasonably large and significant suppression of cannabis withdrawal symptoms here.”1
Nabiximols has also been found to have a positive, yet more limited, therapeutic benefit for following withdrawal symptoms: sleep disturbance, anxiety, appetite loss, physical symptoms, and restlessness.1
It is important for Nabiximols patients to remain in treatment longer during the time of medicine usage.1
“I must caution that this work was carried out in a hospital,” said Allsop. “We are yet to take it out into the community where we would be able to test whether the observed suppression of cannabis withdrawal translates into meaningful reductions in cannabis use.”1
Overall, the study’s findings have informed policy on medicinal cannabis-based products, showing that high therapeutic doses are successful, without the effects of intoxication or abuse liability.1 From here, further studies should be conducted in a more realistic treatment setting, with a larger study population.1 Different doses and longer durations of treatment should be studied to test the medicine’s effectiveness for cannabis relapse prevention.1
 Nabiximols Promising Aid in Cannabis Withdrawal. Medscape. Jan 20, 2014.