When obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was listed as a contributing factor in the death of actress Carrie Fisher, it brought the condition into the spotlight. Until the news, many people considered sleep apnea to be just a bothersome form of snoring. However, with OSA, breathing is actually interrupted for a few seconds or even several minutes. According to the American sleep apnea association, 38,000 people die annually from heart disease directly complicated by sleep apnea. Now researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) believe they have found the first medication that reduces the effects of OSA, and it's based on a molecule found in the cannabis plant.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons)
An estimated 30,000,000 Americans are affected by sleep apnea, a condition linked to numerous health risks. These include heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive impairment, which leads to an increased likelihood of motor vehicle accidents.
Currently, the only treatment available for sleep apnea is the continuous positive airway pressure device known as C CPAP. This device forces air into lungs in order to prevent pauses in breathing. Unfortunately, many people find the devices so uncomfortable that adherence to using the device is poor.
David Carley, the principal investigator on the recent study, said in an article for UIC Today, “There is a tremendous need for effective, new treatments in obstructive sleep apnea.” He explains that even people who want to use C CPAP only stick with it for about four hours a night, on average. “So, the best they get is a roughly 50 percent improvement in their apnea. So far, it’s an impenetrable problem. When people take a pill to treat apnea, they are treated for the entire night.”
Dronabinol, the pill Dr. Carley was referring to, is a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta-9 THC, a molecule found in cannabis. Dronabinol was approved by the FDA 25 years ago to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. This new treatment reflects the idea that sleep apnea is not just a physical problem but may be caused in part to poor regulation of the upper airway muscles by the brain. Dronabinol targets the brain and nerves that regulate the upper airway muscles.
(Image Delta-9 THC molecule courtesy of Wikimedia commons)
This phase two clinical trial demonstrated dronabinol to be a safe and effective treatment for OSA. In the study, 73 patients with moderate to severe sleep apnea received either low doses of dronabinol, higher doses, or a placebos. After six weeks, the highest dose group experienced a lower frequency of apnea during sleep, decreased subjective sleepiness and greater overall treatment satisfaction compared to the other groups. Their hypoxia index also dropped significantly.
Researchers do clarify that smoking or ingesting marijuana would not have the same benefits. Different types of cannabis have different ingredients. What was tested in the study was strictly purified Delta-9 THC.
Larger scale clinical trials will be undertaken to clarify the best approach to cannabinoid therapy for it obstructive sleep apnea. This research was supported by over two million dollars of research funding from the national heart long and blood institute of the NIH.
Researchers Meet with Laboratory Suppliers at UIC:
On Thursday, September 20, 2018, Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be hosting the 19th Annual BioResearch Product Faire™ at University of Illinois, Chicago. This premiere BioResearch Product Faire event gives researchers the opportunity to meet face to face with laboratory equipment suppliers, discuss their equipment needs, and see demonstrations of ther latest products. Science professionals attend for free.
Laboratory equipment suppliers interested in displaying at this event should call (530) 272-6675 or click on the link below for more information.