The drug gabapentin, used to treat epilepsy and nerve pain, may help people quit smoking marijuana, a new study suggests. HealthCanal reports gabapentin targets stress systems in the brain that are activated by drug withdrawal.
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, studied 50 people who sought treatment for marijuana use. In the three-month trial, those who took gabapentin used less marijuana, experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms, and scored higher on tests of cognitive skills, including attention and impulse control, compared with those who took a placebo. Withdrawal symptoms can include sleep disturbances, drug cravings and mood changes.
“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,” researcher Barbara J. Mason said in a news release. “The other nice thing about gabapentin is that it is already widely prescribed, so its safety is less likely to be an issue.”
There is no medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration for marijuana dependence, the researchers note. In the study, which appears in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, they say that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the world, and patients seeking treatment for primary marijuana dependence represent 25 percent of all substance-use admissions.
Mason said repeated drug use can lead to weakening of brain circuits related to self control. This makes it harder for people to resist drug cravings when they are trying to quit. “Gabapentin may help restore those circuits, by reducing stress and enabling patients to sleep better, so that they function better while awake,” she added.