Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids for Sleep Apnea

This week, KannAInsight features a clinical study on cannabinoids for sleep apnea. 

Sleep apnea is well known sleep disorder. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an apnea is a temporary pause in breathing that lasts approximately 10 seconds. In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), restricted airflow through the airway causes this to happen multiple times during the night. Individuals with OSA experience sleep fragmentation and often feel excessive sleepiness during the day. Currently, there are no approved drug treatments for OSA. 

In a placebo-controlled clinical trial, the effects of dronabinol were studied in participants with moderate or severe OSA. Dronabinol is a synthetic cannabinoid that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in patients who fail to respond to standard antiemetic therapy.  

Approximately 75 individual with moderate to severe OSA received either placebo, 2.5 mg dronabinol, or 10 mg dronabinol daily, 1 hour before bedtime for up to 6 weeks.  Participants receiving 10 mg/day of dronabinol expressed the highest overall satisfaction with treatment. In comparison to placebo, dronabinol dose-dependently reduced the number of apneas or hypopneas individuals experienced per hour of sleep. Additionally, 10 mg/day of dronabinol improved self-reported daytime sleepiness. The most frequently reported adverse events across all treatment groups were sleepiness/drowsiness, headache, nausea/vomiting, and dizziness/lightheadedness.

The findings from this clinical trial provide some support for the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in individuals with OSA. However, larger scale clinical trials are needed. 

Citation: Carley DW, Prasad B, Reid KJ, Malkani R, Attarian H, Abbott SM, Vern B, Xie H, Yuan C, Zee PC. Pharmacotherapy of apnea by cannabimimetic enhancement, the PACE clinical trial: Effects of dronabinol in obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep. 2018 Jan 1;41(1).

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