Cannabis is in the news again, this time as a possible cure—or at least an effective treatment—for obstructive sleep apnea.
Researchers have been chasing after a cannabis cure for obstructive sleep apnea for many years, but until now, were not able to come up with a way to use cannabis to treat this common condition.
Cannabis Treatment for
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Chicago researchers conducted the first large multi-site study, involving a cannabis-like drug in pill form.
In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway collapses, cutting off airflow through the windpipe, literally strangling a person during sleep.
CPAP machines are the gold standard treatment. Other treatment options exist for mild forms of OSA, such as tongue retainers, but no treatments involve drugs.
Dronabinol: Synthetic Version of
Cannabis Compound Delta-9 THC
This drug was FDA approved 25 years ago for nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Researchers discovered that dronabinol targets the brain rather than the collapsed airways.
During wakefulness, our brain keeps the airway muscles activated and firm, which is why people with obstructive sleep apnea have no problem with airway blockage when they’re awake.
The study points out that airway collapse is linked to the brain not being able to properly regulate the airway muscles.
“The CPAP device targets the physical problem but not the cause,” says Dr. Phyllis Zee in the report.
“The drug targets the brain and nerves that regulate the upper airway muscles,” continues the report. “It alters the neurotransmitters from the brain that communicate with the muscles.”
A pill for obstructive sleep apnea would be a godsend to the throngs of people who cannot tolerate the CPAP mask.
• 73 adults with moderate to severe sleep apnea.
• One group was given a low dose of the cannabis-like drug.
• A second group was given a higher dose (10 mg).
• The third group got a placebo.
• The drug was taken once, prior to bedtime, for six weeks.
The higher dose was associated with a lower AHI (apnea-hypopnea index) plus reduced feelings of daytime sleepiness, when compared to the placebo group.
Should You Buy Cannabis at a
Dispensary for Your Sleep Apnea?
Forget it. “Different types of cannabis have different ingredients,” says Dr. Zee in the report (which will appear in its final version in the Dec. 5 issue of the medical journal SLEEP). “The active ingredient may not be exactly the same as what’s indicated for sleep apnea.”
The Cannabis sativa plant contains dozens of active ingredients. Only the delta-9 THC was tested.
Larger clinical trials to refine knowledge of just how to implement cannabis as an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.