There is currently no drug treatment for sleep apnea, a sleep breathing disorder. If untreated there is an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, sleepiness, cognitive impairment and motor vehicle accidents. Researchers at Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Chicago studied the effect of dronabinol, a synthetic version of Delta-9 THC which is found in cannabis. Dronabinol targets the brain and nerves that regulate the upper airway muscles rather than the physical problem of collapsing airways. The 6-week study included 73 adult patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea, finding that the higher dose of dronabinol (10mg) was associated with a lower frequency of apneas or hyponeas (overly shallow breathing) during sleep, decreased subjective sleepiness, and had a greater overall treatment satisfaction compared to placebo. The severity of the disorder was reduced 33% compared to complete compliance with the CPAP device, which targets the physical problem. Larger scale clinical trials are needed to figure out best approach to cannabinoid therapy in obstructive sleep apnea, but this study shows promise of a potential new therapy for sleep apnea.
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Do you or someone you know have sleep apnea? Have you ever counseled patients using a CPAP device? What are your thoughts on these findings?