LA JOLLA, CA April 24, 2012 Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have found clinical evidence that the drug gabapentin, currently on the market to treat neuropathic pain and epilepsy, helps people to quit smoking marijuana (cannabis). Unlike traditional addiction treatments, gabapentin targets stress systems in the brain that are activated by drug withdrawal.
In a 12-week trial of 50 treatment-seeking cannabis users, those who took gabapentin used less cannabis, experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms such as sleeplessness, and scored higher on tests of attention, impulse-control, and other cognitive skills, compared to patients who received a placebo. If these results are confirmed by ongoing larger trials, gabapentin could become the first FDA-approved pharmaceutical treatment for cannabis dependence.
"A lot of other drugs have been tested for their ability to decrease cannabis use and withdrawal, but this is the first to show these key effects in a controlled treatment study," said Barbara J. Mason, the Pearson Family Chair and Co-Director of the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research at Scripps Research. "The other nice thing about gabapentin is that it is already widely prescribed, so its safety is less likely to be an issue."
Mason led the new gabapentin study, recently published online ahead of print by the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Addiction researchers have long known that recreational drugs hook users by disrupting the normal tuning of their brains' reward and motivation circuitry. But as scientists at Scripps Research and other institutions have shown in animal studies, cannabis withdrawal after prolonged heavy use also leads to the long-term activation of basic stress circuits. "In human cannabis users who try to quit, this stress response is reflected in reports of drug craving, sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability, and dysphoria, any o
|Contact: Mika Ono|
Scripps Research Institute