THERAPY: Medicinal cannabis plants.
THERAPY: Medicinal cannabis plants. Mike Knott BUN270319CAN12

The surprising treatment tackling drug dependency

AN Australian study has demonstrated that cannabis-based medication helps tackle dependency on cannabis.

A paper about a University of Sydney and NSW Health clinical trial has provided the first strong evidence that so-called cannabinoid agonist medication - which targets receptors in the brain - can significantly reduce the rate of relapse.

The paper was published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine.

Lead author Conjoint Professor Nick Lintzeris - of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Medicine and Health and Director of Drug & Alcohol Services, South East Sydney Local Health District - said the study should give hope to people with dependency on cannabis, which is a leading cause of drug treatment episodes in Australia.

"We've never had the evidence before that medication can be effective in treating cannabis dependency - this is the first big study to show this is a safe and effective approach," Professor Lintzeris said.

"The principles are very similar to nicotine replacement: you are providing patients with a medicine which is safer than the drug they're already using, and linking this with medical and counselling support to help people address their illicit cannabis use."

The cannabis concentrate, which comprises equal proportions of cannabidiol (CBD) and the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is sprayed under the tongue and avoids the health impacts associated with smoking cannabis such as respiratory issues.

Nabiximols has been primarily used to treat pain symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis and is licensed in Australia.

Alternative medical cannabis products exist but these are only available through special access schemes and unlike the trial medication, also require Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval.

This large 12-week outpatient clinical trial of 128 participants taking nabiximols medication followed an earlier study by the same research team that had previously shown nabiximols reduce withdrawal symptoms in a short-term hospital treatment program.

During the clinical trial, participants had an average dose of about 18 sprays a day, with each spray of 0.1mL comprising 2.7mg of THC and 2.5mg of CBD.

Participants treated with nabiximols used significantly less illicit cannabis than patients randomly allocated to placebo medication.