New Drug to Treat Cannabis Addiction on the Horizon

In clinical trials, researchers found the new medication, AEF0117, effectively lowered positive feelings about cannabis and reduced cannabis use without significant side effects.

Though many people believe cannabis is not an addictive substance, research suggests that almost 20% of people who use the drug develop cannabis use disorder (CUD).

A person with CUD may experience an inability to fulfill work or personal obligations because of cannabis use and may continue to use the drug regardless of these negative impacts.

Despite the increasing prevalence of marijuana use and CUD, there are no effective medications to help treat the condition.

However, research findings published on June 8 in Nature Medicine suggest a new drug that targets cannabis addiction may be available soon.

Based on earlier findings that showed tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive compound in marijuana — activates CB1 receptors in the brain, researchers developed AEF0117 — a drug that inhibits a subsection of molecular pathways activated by the receptor.

In rodent and primate studies, the drug inhibited the behavioral effects of THC without disrupting normal behavior or physiological activities. Moreover, the drug appeared safe and well tolerated in 64 healthy human participants during two phase 1 clinical trials.

The researchers also conducted a phase 2a trial involving 29 mostly male volunteers with CUD. The participants smoked an average of 2.9 grams of cannabis daily, 6.9 days per week. Moreover, 34.5% had mild CUD, 44.8% were classified with moderate CUD, and 20.7 had a severe form of the disorder.

The participants received two different doses of the drug or a placebo in counterbalanced order. Then, they were allowed to smoke a controlled amount of cannabis. However, they also had four opportunities to smoke throughout the day if they chose to do so.

The researchers found that AEF0117 lowered positive ratings of cannabis and decreased the number of times participants self-administered the drug without triggering cannabis withdrawal or disrupting functions like mood, sleep, and food intake.

Though more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of the new drug in a larger number of participants, the authors say these findings suggest that AEF0117 has potential as a CUD treatment option.

The authors also note that a three-month trial is ongoing involving participants who want treatment for CUD.

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