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Curr Addict Rep. 2014 Jun 1;1(2):137-143.

Novel Pharmacologic Approaches to Treating Cannabis Use Disorder.

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Division on Substance Abuse Department of Psychiatry Columbia University Medical Center 1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 120, New York, NY 10032, U.S.A.


With large and increasing numbers of people using cannabis, the development of cannabis use disorder (CUD) is a growing public health concern. Despite the success of evidence-based psychosocial therapies, low rates of initial abstinence and high rates of relapse during and following treatment for CUD suggest a need for adjunct pharmacotherapies. Here we review the literature on medication development for the treatment of CUD, with a particular focus on studies published within the last three years (2010-2013). Studies in both the human laboratory and in the clinic have tested medications with a wide variety of mechanisms. In the laboratory, the following medication strategies have been shown to decrease cannabis withdrawal and self-administration following a period of abstinence (a model of relapse): the cannabinoid receptor agonist, nabilone, and the adrenergic agonist, lofexidine, alone and in combination with dronabinol (synthetic THC), supporting clinical testing of these medication strategies. Antidepressant, anxiolytic and antipsychotic drugs targeting monoamines (norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin) have generally failed to decrease withdrawal symptoms or laboratory measures of relapse. In terms of clinical trials, dronabinol and multiple antidepressants (fluoxetine, venlafaxine and buspirone) have failed to decrease cannabis use. Preliminary results from controlled clinical trials with gabapentin and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) support further research on these medication strategies. Data from open label and laboratory studies suggest lithium and oxytocin also warrant further testing. Overall, it is likely that different medications will be needed to target distinct aspects of problematic cannabis use: craving, ongoing use, withdrawal and relapse. Continued research is needed in preclinical, laboratory and clinical settings.


cannabis use disorder; dronabinol; marijuana; pharmacological treatment; withdrawal

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