Nabiximols as an agonist replacement therapy during cannabis withdrawal: A randomized clinical trial

David J. Allsop*, Jan Copeland, Nicholas Lintzeris, Adrian J. Dunlop, Mark Montebello, Craig Sadler, Gonzalo R. Rivas, Rohan M. Holland, Peter Muhleisen, Melissa M. Norberg, Jessica Booth, Iain S. McGregor

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    200 Citations (Scopus)


    IMPORTANCE: There are no medications approved for treating cannabis dependence or withdrawal. The cannabis extract nabiximols (Sativex), developed as a multiple sclerosis treatment, offers a potential agonist medication for cannabis withdrawal.

    OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the safety and efficacy of nabiximols in treating cannabis withdrawal.

    DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: A 2-site, double-blind randomized clinical inpatient trial with a 28-day follow-up was conducted in New South Wales, Australia. Participants included 51 DSM-IV-TR cannabis-dependent treatment seekers.

    INTERVENTIONS: A 6-day regimen of nabiximols (maximum daily dose, 86.4 mg of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and 80 mg of cannabidiol) or placebo with standardized psychosocial interventions during a 9-day admission.

    MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Severity of cannabis withdrawal and cravings (Cannabis Withdrawal Scale), retention in withdrawal treatment, and adverse events. Secondary outcomes include postwithdrawal cannabis use, health outcomes, and psychosocial outcomes.

    RESULTS: Nabiximols treatment significantly reduced the overall severity of cannabis withdrawal relative to placebo (F8,377.97 = 2.39; P = .01), including effects on withdrawal-related irritability, depression, and cannabis cravings. Nabiximols had a more limited, but still positive, therapeutic benefit on sleep disturbance, anxiety, appetite loss, physical symptoms, and restlessness. Nabiximols patients remained in treatment longer during medication use (unadjusted hazard ratio, 3.66 [95% CI, 1.18-11.37]; P = .02), with 2.84 the number needed to treat to achieve successful retention in treatment. Participants could not reliably differentiate between nabiximols and placebo treatment (χ21 = 0.79; P = .67), and those receiving nabiximols did not report greater intoxication (F1,6 = 0.22; P = .97). The number (F1,50 = 0.3; P = .59) and severity (F1,50 = 2.69; P = .10) of adverse events did not differ significantly between groups. Both groups showed reduced cannabis use at follow-up, with no advantage of nabiximols over placebo for self-reported cannabis use (F1,48 = 0.29; P = .75), cannabis-related problems (F1,49 = 2.33; P = .14), or cannabis dependence (F1,50 < 0.01; P = .89).

    CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In a treatment-seeking cohort, nabiximols attenuated cannabis withdrawal symptoms and improved patient retention in treatment. However, placebo was as effective as nabiximols in promoting long-term reductions in cannabis use following medication cessation. The data support further evaluation of nabiximols for management of cannabis dependence and withdrawal in treatment-seeking populations.

    TRIAL REGISTRATION: Identifier: ACTRN12611000398909.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)281-291
    Number of pages11
    JournalJAMA Psychiatry
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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