Kicking Marijuana -- New Drug Therapy

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With the push toward legalization, we sometimes forget that in some people, marijuana is addictive. For this population, stopping use is extraordinarily hard. Even though cannabis is the most widely abused illegal drug worldwide, and is responsible for one-quarter of all substance abuse admission, there is no approved pharmaceutical therapy for dependence on cannabis.

A new study shows that an anti-seizure medication may work in helping marijuana addicts give up the drug. The medication, gabapentin, is currently prescribed to treat seizures, but has also found use off label, for pain and hot flashes.

This study used two groups of patients. All were trying to kick the marijuana habit. One group got gabapentin and the other placebo. All were monitored for marijuana use (urine and interview) and all received counseling for the addiction. After three months, those on gabapentin had a 50% higher abstinence rate than the non-medicated group.

Patients using the drug also reported fewer withdrawal symptoms than the control group.

Since gabapentin is already approved for human use, therapists can prescribe it for their patients immediately if this study is borne out. Doctors are cautioned that the study is only an initial look at the use of the drug for marijuana addiction. The mechanism for this effect is not well understood, but researchers postulate it helps with impulse control and stabilizes brain chemistry so that feelings of stress are reduced.

Also of note is that the drug wasn’t used in a “prescribe it and forget it” format. All patients received addiction treatment along with the gabapentin. For this reason, any use based on these results should be combined with professional addiction treatment and therapy. However, such positive results will likely make gabapentin a standard therapy adjunct in marijuana addiction therapy.

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