A new clinical trial led by the University of Sydney in Australia has shown that a cannabis-based medication called nabiximols could counter dependency on cannabis and minimise the rate of relapse in users.

A publication by the university, in alliance with New South Wales Ministry of Health (NSW Health), in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal says that the cannabinoid agonist drug targets brain receptors.

Nabiximols is a cannabis concentrate made of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is formulated to be sprayed under the tongue.

Licensed in Australia, the drug is mainly used to treat multiple sclerosis-related pain symptoms.

In the latest trial, 128 participants were treated with an average dose of 18 sprays of nabiximols per day over 12 weeks. Each 0.1ml spray contained 2.5mg CBD and 2.7mg THC.

According to the results, nabiximols led to significantly less illicit cannabis usage compared to placebo.

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Sydney Medical School professor Nick Lintzeris said: “We’ve never had the evidence before that medication can be effective in treating cannabis dependency, this is the first big study to show this is a safe and effective approach.”

“The principles are very similar to nicotine replacement, you are providing patients with a medicine which is safer than the drug they’re already using, and linking this with medical and counselling support to help people address their illicit cannabis use.”

During the trial, the medication was given alongside cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic support.

The researchers reported suppression of withdrawal and cravings, along with physical and psychological well-being improvements.

Lintzeris added: “Our study is an important step in addressing the lack of effective treatments. Currently, four in five patients relapse to regular use within six months of medical or psychological interventions.”