Obstructive sleep apnea can lead increased risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Current treatments often include positive airway pressure devices and other oral appliances. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Northwestern University believe dronabinol may be a suitable alternative.
“At the present time, there are no approved drug treatments for sleep apnea, and there remains an important unmet need for fully effective and acceptable treatments of the disorder,” said David Carley, professor of biobehavioral health sciences, medicine, and bioengineering at UIC.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved dronabinol more than 25 years ago to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. Carley previously had found that dronabinol, which is a cannabinoid agonist, held potential for treating sleep apnea. In the latest study, adult patients were divided into 3 groups: one given a low dose, a second given a higher dose, and a third given a placebo. Subjects took the dose once a day before bed for 6 weeks.
“In comparison to placebo, 6 weeks of treatment by the highest dose of dronabinol (10 mg) was associated with a lower frequency of apneas or hypopneas during sleep, decreased subjective sleepiness, and greater overall treatment satisfaction,” said Carley. “Neither the amount of sleep nor objective sleepiness improved.”
UIC has licensed intellectual property related to the experimental drug treatment used in the study to RespireRx. Sleep apnea affects approximately 22 million Americans, with 80% of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea cases going undiagnosed. Researchers have attempted to identify drugs to treat sleep apnea for nearly 35 years to no avail, Carley said.
“By providing a path toward the fist viable obstructive sleep apnea drug, our studies could have a major impact on clinical practice,” Carley said. “However, expanded and pivotal clinical trials must still be conducted to fully establish the best approach to cannabinoid therapy in obstructive sleep apnea.”
The study, “Dronabinol Reduces AHI and Daytime Sleepiness in Patients with Moderate to Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome,” was published in Sleep.