Increased cannabis legalization has brought its share of benefits and downsides. One critical disadvantage is the potential for marijuana addiction. Experts are aware of the issue and have introduced an experimental drug that may treat cannabis disorder.
About the Marijuana Addiction Pill
A double-blind randomized controlled study found that the drug, AEF-0117, reduced the perceived “good effects” of cannabis. Researchers will move forward with the next stage of testing to determine the proper dosage.
Meg Haney, the director of the cannabis research laboratory at Columbia University and the study’s lead author, has described the findings as “very encouraging”.
“This is one of the very few medications that I’ve tested to directly decrease the effects of cannabis. The question I asked was, can I change the way it makes people feel and, therefore, help them to abstain from cannabis?” Haney said.
If approved, AEF-0117 could be the first FDA-approved drug to treat cannabis disorder.
The marijuana addiction drug was tested on 29 adult men and women diagnosed with cannabis abuse disorder. The participants used about 3 grams of marijuana a day six days a week.
The drug was administered at a low dose of .06 mg, and a higher dose of 1 mg.
Participants used the drug or a placebo for the first five days of the trial. They took it at 9 AM and then used a specific amount of cannabis 3.5 hours later.
They were asked to rate their effects with statements like “I feel high” or “I feel a good effect” 20 minutes to two hours after smoking.
Findings revealed that the lower doses reduced the “feel good” effects of cannabis by 19%. Higher doses reduced the effects by 38%.
Higher doses also helped reduce the amount of cannabis participants used later in the day.
The drug did not cause significant side effects or withdrawal.
Researchers are currently conducting larger trials to confirm the drug’s effects. A phase 2b nationwide trial of around 300 patients is underway. Results should be reported sometime next year.
How Does the Marijuana Addition Drug Affect the Brain
The marijuana addiction drug is effective due to the way it reacts with receptors in the brain.
When cannabis is consumed, its THC content binds to the CB1 receptor in the brain.
“This particular compound (THC) can only block certain actions of the receptor,” says Dr. Scott Hadland, an addiction specialist at Mass General Hospital for Children in Boston. “That way you’re able to block the euphoric effects of cannabis without causing these adverse side effects,” he explains.
Hadland, who was not involved in the study, says the marijuana addiction drug will be most effective in people who want to quit.
“We have to remember that this is a medication that, because it’s blocking the rewarding effects of cannabis, patients will have to want to take it. We’ll need motivated patients who are looking to stop their cannabis use to take the medication for it to work,” he said.
What is Marijuana Addiction?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that marijuana addiction affects 30% of users. It is defined as the inability to stop using marijuana even when it interferes with daily life.
2021 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration statistics show that 14 million Americans struggle with marijuana addiction.
Marijuana addiction is not a widely recognized concern in society because most people who use it will not become dependent. However, it can cause severe issues in some individuals.
“What’s underrecognized in our society, as we’ve expanded access to cannabis, is that some people do have very severe problems from it,” Hadland said.
As a person who works with teens and young adults struggling with marijuana addiction, he is aware of the issues that develop when younger generations become dependent on cannabis. He cites these issues as:
- Poor grades and poor performance in school
- Deteriorating relationships
- A loss of interest in activities the person once enjoyed
He is disappointed that no medications have been developed to treat marijuana addiction. “Our care has been hampered by a lack of medications that are effective for treatment. This is different from other substances like opioids, nicotine, and alcohol where we have effective medications,” he said.
Haney is also frustrated by the lack of public awareness in the face of increased legalization.
“There is no honest discussion of it. I think the public is largely unaware of the risks of cannabis use, and it’s just talked about in very glowing terms,” she said.
More Studies are Needed
The marijuana addiction drug, which was developed by the French biotech firm Aelis Farma, must be tested on larger populations before it is approved. There is also a need to test it on higher-potency marijuana products.
David Kroll, a toxicologist and co-director of the cannabis science and medicine education programs at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacology who was not involved in the study, notes the drug’s promising effects. But he also pointed out that it was tested on products that are not as potent as those found on today’s market.
The cannabis used in the study contained 7% or about 67 mg of THC, about a third of the dose available in most of today’s products.
“The products that are available now are just mind-blowing. There’s no relation to the cannabis that your parents or grandparents might have smoked,” he says.