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Cannabidiol: Hope for cannabis use disorder?

A cannabidiol double bond isomer
A cannabidiol double bond isomer Image credit: Nikos 1993 / CC0

In what is reportedly a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have identified cannabidiol as a potential treatment for cannabis use disorder. 

Research published in The Lancet has sought to identify the potential benefits of cannabidiol to help those affected by cannabis use disorder reduce their use of the substance. To this end, researchers “aimed to identify efficacious doses and eliminate inefficacious doses in a phase 2a trial using an adaptive Bayesian design.” They identified that “cannabidiol 400 mg and 800 mg were safe and more efficacious than placebo at reducing cannabis use.”

In many parts of the globe, the tide is turning on cannabis. Many countries are changing gears, from outright prohibition to relaxation of cannabis restrictions for medicinal use to outright legalisation. However, while many celebrate relaxed attitudes toward cannabis, concerns are raised surrounding the potential for cannabis use disorders which affect an estimated 22 million people globally – one the researchers note to be “similar to the prevalence of opioid use disorders.”

“Our study provides the first causal evidence to support cannabidiol, or CBD, as a treatment for cannabis use disorders,” said the study’s lead author Dr Tom Freeman, director of the Additional and Mental Health Group at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. “This is encouraging, as there are currently no drug treatments for cannabis addiction. CBD products are widely available in many countries but we would not advise people to self-medicate with these products. People with concerns about their cannabis use should always speak to a healthcare professional in the first instance.”

The study’s senior author Professor Valerie Curran, director of the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit at University College London, noted that higher doses [than 400 mg or 800 mg] are unlikely to bring any additional benefit. Larger studies are needed to determine the magnitude of the benefits of daily CBD for reducing cannabis use.”

India is estimated to be home to more than thirty million cannabis users, making it the country’s most widely-consumed illicit substance, notes a study released earlier this year. “Many of them [cannabis users] have cannabis use disorders,” the study noted. “However, the rate of cannabis use among the treatment-seeking population is about 11.6 percent, somewhat lower than that of opioids. 

“This suggests that though the use of cannabis remains a significant problem in the community and society, it is under-represented or under-detected in the treatment-seeking population.” This potential underrepresentation or underdetection of cannabis users in the treatment-seeking population may be exacerbated by the relative dearth of addiction treatment infrastructure in the country and attitudes towards substance abuse some commentators believe need to be rethought. 

The findings related to cannabidiol are encouraging and warrant further investigation. For cannabis users in India seeking treatment, the Lancet study findings could offer new hope. 

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