This year, Barbara J. Mason and other scientists at The Scripps Research Institute discovered that Gabapentin, known as an anticonvulsant, also facilitates individuals with the ability to lowering/quitting consumption habits in respect to marijuana. In addition to decreasing the severity of the withdrawal symptoms like irritability and insomnia, gabapentin assisted individuals in getting and staying sober from marijuana. Mason said that surveys show that 16-25% of individuals seeking chemical dependency treatment suffer primarily from marijuana dependency (Science Daily, 2012). Gabapentin’s benefits to the chemical dependency field are not limited to marijuana. Another study at The Scripps Research Institute by Dr. George Koob discovered that gabapentin could decrease withdrawal symptoms in alcohol dependent rats (Maugh II, 2012). I have also heard of gabapentin and a similar drug, Lyrica, being useful during opiate withdrawals as well, lessening the severity of the symptoms.
Researchers gave one group of participants placebos and the other group gabapentin. Both groups received standard behavior therapy. The study lasted 12 weeks. As marijuana withdrawals are considered very prolonged, the stress of them often leads users to relapse. The gabapentin is meant to decrease the severity of the withdrawals so that the user has a chance to get through them. When researchers compared the patients given the gabapentin to the control group given placebos, they relapsed less often and those who remained in the trial ultimately were abstinent for the final four weeks. Researchers used urine analysis and participants’ self-reports to determine accuracy of relapse reporting. Researchers also found that gabapentin improved cognition when the placebo and gabapentin groups were tested on attention, impulse-control, and executive functions (Science Daily, 2012).
Here is Mason’s explanation for why gabapentin works on marijuana addicts: “That weakening of self-control-related circuits makes it even harder for people to resist drug cravings when they’re trying to quit, but gabapentin may help restore those circuits, by reducing stress and enabling patients to sleep better, so that they function better while awake.” (Quinn, 2012) By allowing individuals recovering from marijuana dependency to struggle less with the insomnia and fear, they are able to engage more with life and focus less on the pain of the withdrawal and how much they miss weed. As such, it is easier to move forward instead of relapsing. It is far easier to romanticize a drug and relapse during a prolonged extreme withdrawal than when one is actively engaging in life.
While The Scripps Research Institute study was small with only 50 subjects, researchers hope to conduct a larger study that may lead the FDA to consider gabapentin the first approved medication for marijuana dependency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health are sponsoring the larger study, which you or someone you know could be a part of. Call (858) 784-7867, if you are interested (Maugh II, 2012).
Brain Posts. (2011, April 7). Gabapentin Improves Outcome In Alcoholism. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from Brain Posts
Maugh II, T. (2012, April 25). Gabapentin may ease symptoms of marijuana withdrawal. Retrieved 2012, from Los Angeles Times
Quinn, A. (2012, April 24). Pill Helps Addicts Forget Marijuana. Retrieved 2012
Science Daily. (2012, April 24). Anticonvulsant Drug Helps Marijuana Smokers Kick the Habit. Retrieved June 6, 2012, from Science Daily