Can Cannabis-Based Medicine Cure Sleep Apnea?
For an issue that is becoming more and more common, cannabis is possibly the key to making it all go away.
Published on January 15, 2016

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) affects millions of Americans, disrupting sleep patterns and causing a host of health issues. Almost 15% of the American population suffers from OSA or similar sleeping disorders. Fortunately, a cannabis-based drug is undergoing clinical trials with the intent to alleviate those suffering from OSA.

Sleep apnea is caused by shallow breathing or pauses in breath while sleeping. It can cause snoring and uncomfortable, interrupted sleep, and prevents sufferers from gaining the necessary sleep to function properly in their daily lives. When a person suffering from OSA tries to breathe in their sleep, each breath becomes more shallow and uses more energy until the person wakes and the process starts over. Sleep apnea can lead to increased risk of heart disease from the constant disruption in oxygen flow.

The only known cure for sleep apnea is mouth surgery, which can be prohibitively expensive. More frequently, patients undergo treatment managed with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine; a facemask worn while sleeping that exerts oxygen pressure to the sinus cavity. This solution is uncomfortable and must be worn nightly to the chagrin of many patients.

Soon, however, an alternative treatment option may become available.

The cannabis-based drug Dronabinol seeks to offer a less cumbersome treatment compared to CPAP machines obsolete, making sleep for OSA sufferers much more flexible. Dronabinol is currently being tested by cancer patients to treat nausea and vomiting and to help with weight management. It has been discovered in trials that a positive side effect of the drug is keeping airways open during sleep.
clinical trial, involving seventeen adults who suffer from OSA revealed a short-term positive and consistent increase in the flow of air to the lungs when Dronabinol is taken in small doses. The study showed, “no degradation of sleep architecture or serious adverse events,” which means it only displayed a positive affect.

The clinical trial’s conclusion was that, “Dronabinol treatment is safe and well-tolerated in OSA patients…and significantly reduces AHI in the short-term.” AHI, the Apnea Hypopnea Index, is used to measure the severity of OSA, and a low AHI is best.

Dronabinol would be the first drug treatment for sleep apnea and could help millions of people easily get the deep sleep they need to function properly while also reducing their risk of heart disease.

The company RespireRx Pharmaceuticals Inc., formerly known as Cortex Pharmaceuticals Inc., is currently undergoing a Phase 2B Clinical Trial of Dronabinol. The study consists of “120 patients, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial...for use in the treatment of OSA during the third quarter of 2016.”

After the trial is completed, if the results are concurrent with the first trial, RespireRX will need to gain the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) approval before Dronabinol will be able to find its way into the medicine cabinets of OSA patients.

Although the trials will not be completed until the end of 2016, this medicine could be readily available by 2017. Considering the positive outcome of the first trial, the prospect of success is high.

Amber Finnegan
Amber Finnegan is a political and lifestyle blogger and photographer. She has a BA in History from San Francisco State University and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a staunch believer in legalization of cannabis and encourages socially responsible living. Follow her on Twitter @i8veggies.
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