In a world-first, researchers from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC), based at UNSW, are leading a study to determine whether the pharmaceutical drug Sativex can help people better manage cannabis withdrawal symptoms as a platform for ongoing abstinence.

It is estimated that there are at least 200,000 people dependent on cannabis in Australia, with one in ten people who try the drug at least once in their lifetime having problems ceasing use.

“One of the major barriers for regular cannabis users when they try to quit is withdrawal,” said NCPIC director Professor Jan Copeland. “Withdrawal symptoms may include sleep difficulties, cravings and mood swings and although these are not life threatening, they are significant enough to cause marked distress and lead people to go back to using the drug.”

“There is currently no targeted drug available to assist with cannabis withdrawal. Tobacco smokers have nicotine replacement therapies to assist them when they stop cigarette smoking and opiate users have synthetic opioids like methadone. This study will investigate whether a pharmaceutical preparation of botanical cannabis known as Sativex has the potential to help cannabis users in a similar way.”

Sativex is administered through a mouth spray. It is registered for use in Canada, Spain and the UK as treatment for the symptomatic relief of neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis patients. The spray contains the cannabis extracts, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the substance primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, however, the spray administers the substance at doses below the level of intoxication.

This randomised controlled trial is funded by National Health and Medical Research Council and is currently recruiting participants for the limited places available. It requires an admission to hospital in either Sydney or Newcastle for one week free of charge.

For more information on the study and to learn if you might be eligible, please email Dr David Allsop or call on (02) 9385 0448.

Read the Sydney Morning Herald story.