Cannabinoids: A Potential Therapy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

A man tired in bed with a headache.
A man tired in bed with a headache.
Research presented at SLEEP 2017 suggests that dronabinol, previously used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, may be an effective treatment for sleep apnea.

Dronabinol, a drug approved over 25 years ago to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, may be an effective treatment for sleep apnea. The full findings of the study were presented at the SLEEP 2017 annual meeting.

Building on promising past data, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University conducted a 6-week trial of dronabinol, a cannabinoid agonist, in patients with sleep apnea. In the Pharmacotherapy of Apnea by Cannabimimetic Enhancement (PACE) study, 1 group received a low dose of the drug, a second group received a higher dose, and a third group received a placebo once daily at bedtime for 6 weeks. 

“In comparison to placebo, 6 weeks of treatment by the highest dose of dronabinol (10mg) was associated with a lower frequency of apneas orhypopneas during sleep, decreased subjective sleepiness, and greater overall treatment satisfaction,” reported lead author David Carley, a professor at the University of Illinois. There was no improvement in sleep duration or objective sleepiness.

Professor Carley indicated that the study findings could have a significant impact on clinical practice but added that, “expanded and pivotal clinical trials must still be conducted to fully establish the best approach to cannabinoid therapy in obstructive sleep apnea.”

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Carley DW, Prasad B, Reid KJ, et al. Dronabinol reduces AHI and daytime sleepiness in patients with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Presented at: SLEEP 2017; June 3-7, 2017; Boston, MA. Abstract 0558.

This article originally appeared on MPR