A new pill aims to combat marijuana addiction as cannabis consumption continues to rise across the US.
An experimental drug, called AEF-0117, has proven effective in a small trial.
It showed positive results in reducing the addictive impact of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis — on the brain, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Currently, there is no FDA-approved medication on the market to treat cannabis use disorder.
The findings are “very encouraging,” Meg Haney, the study’s lead author and director of the cannabis research laboratory at Columbia University, told NBC News.
“This is one of the very few medications that I’ve tested to directly decrease the effects of cannabis,” Haney told the outlet. “The question I asked was, can I change the way it makes people feel and, therefore, help them to abstain from cannabis?”
Researchers enlisted 29 adult men and women diagnosed with cannabis use disorder, who smoke, on average, around 3 grams of weed every day for six days a week.
The trial featured two doses of the AEF-0117 drug: 0.06 milligrams and 1 milligram.
Some group members were given a placebo or the AEF-0117 drug at 9 a.m. every day for five days. Then, 3.5 hours later, they consumed a controlled amount of cannabis.
After 20 minutes passed, participants were asked to identify if they felt high or a “good effect.” They were asked this five times over the course of two hours.
The “good effects” cannabis had on individuals who took the 0.06 milligrams of the AEF-0117 were reduced by 19%. Those who took 1 milligram of the drug managed to reduce the “good effects” weed had on them by 38%, according to the findings.
Researchers noted that the higher dose of the experimental drug deterred users who took it from consuming more cannabis later in the experiment. A larger study of 300 patients will be conducted to back up the small trial’s success. Results from the larger trial are slated to be released next year.
“The unique pharmacological profile of AEF0117 is illustrated by its ability to decrease self-administration, addiction-related subjective effects and the unconditioned effects of cannabis and THC without precipitating withdrawal,” researchers noted.
Cannabis use addiction is prevalent particularly among younger consumers. According to a separate report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse published in March 2021, individuals aged 12 to 17 are more likely than those aged 18 to 25 to become addicted to marijuana within a year after using it for the first time.
Signs of cannabis over-consumption in teens include declining grades and trouble in school, changes in relationships, and disinterest in activities they once enjoyed — such as leaving a club or sport, Dr. Scott Hadland, a Boston-based addiction specialist at Mass General Hospital for Children, told NBC News.