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While most people can use marijuana recreationally without developing a significant problem with it – about 9% of those that experiment with the drug and 15% of those that use it as teen will become addicted to it.1 

Once marijuana dependent, quitting becomes pretty tough and a lot of people who try to break free from their marijuana habit find sustained abstinence too difficult to maintain and relapse back to use.

In fact, of those that seek treatment for marijuana dependence, a majority will relapse back to use and addiction within a year.

Although 9% of users sounds like a relatively small number, because marijuana is the most frequently abused illicit drug, even just 9% amounts to a number in the millions within America alone.

Although many people can use marijuana without developing a problem, because so many people experience problems with marijuana addiction and because it can be so difficult to quit once addicted, better marijuana addiction treatments, including effective medications, are clearly in need.

Medications in the Pipeline for Marijuana Addiction Treatment

Although the FDA has yet to approve any medications for the treatment of marijuana dependence and withdrawal, researchers out of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute are zeroing in a possible medication combo to relieve marijuana withdrawal symptoms and reduce relapse rates among those trying to quit.

The two medications under investigation are:

  1. Synthetic THC
  2. Lofexidine

Synthetic THC is an FDA approved medication that’s used as an appetite stimulant. Lofexidine is not yet FDA approved, but is used in Europe as an alternative to clonidine to treat hypertension and symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

Initial Research Results on the Efficacy of THC and Lofexidine to Treat Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms

In an experiment to test the effectiveness of TCH and Lofexidine against marijuana withdrawal symptoms, a number of male, heavy marijuana using study subjects agreed to spend a week abstaining from marijuana while taking one of:

  1. Placebo
  2. THC (at low doses that do not produce marijuana like intoxication)
  3. Lofexidine
  4. THC and Lofexidine

After the week of treatment and marijuana abstinence, real marijuana was made available at high cost during the following days.

Study subjects were observed and self reported marijuana withdrawal symptoms during the week of abstinence and researchers noted how much and how frequently they were willing to pay a high price for marijuana in the days following the treatment (willingness to pay a high price for marijuana after treatment is used to measure likelihood to relapse).

The Results

Subjects on low dose THC had better appetite, no weight loss and decreased overall withdrawal symptoms during the week of marijuana abstinence. THC, however, worsened difficulty falling asleep and after treatment with THC, subjects relapsed back to use similarly to subjects taking a placebo.

During the withdrawal phase, subjects on Lofexidine alone had more difficulty eating, felt more lethargic and experienced little overall reduced withdrawal symptoms. Lofexidine did reduce insomnia and did also reduce relapse rates.

Compared to people getting a placebo or getting either medication alone, subjects given both Lofexidine and THC experienced better sleep, reduced drug cravings, reduced overall withdrawal symptoms and the lowest overall relapse rates.2

The Future

While the FDA has yet to approve Lofexidine for use in conjunction with low dose THC as a possible medication to treat marijuana withdrawal symptoms, research is ongoing and that initial results are so promising bodes very well for possible effective pharmacological weapon against marijuana addiction relapse in the near future.

References
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Page last updated Dec 17, 2012

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