SMOKERS have nicotine patches and heroin addicts have methadone but cannabis users have little choice except to go cold turkey if they want to kick the habit.
But researchers at the University of New South Wales hope a cannabis-based mouth spray prescribed to multiple sclerosis sufferers and not available in Australia could be used to help people quit marijuana.
There are no products specifically aimed at easing people off cannabis, the only option being a cocktail of prescribed drugs used to counteract withdrawal symptoms.
But a drug, Sativex, used in mouth spray, contains two of the main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant; tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
It was the combination of both that gave Sativex potential, said Jan Copeland, who is leading the world-first study through the university's National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre.
''The smoked cannabis available on the market has had almost all the CBD taken out of it, which is almost considered the 'good' cannabinoid, while THC is associated with getting stoned,'' Dr Copeland said. ''The good thing about Sativex is it returns CBD to the compound, and in treating symptoms of withdrawal it can dampen down the effects of THC on the patients' receptor systems without them getting stoned.''
The mouth spray, which the university has been given authorisation to use for the study, will be given in low doses in a monitored hospital environment every six hours.
Disrupted sleep patterns, difficulty functioning and anger were common withdrawal symptoms and the main cause of relapse, Professor Copeland said.
Former cannabis smoker Teresa Ursich said she wished a drug like Sativex was available when she was trying to quit. She has written a book about her experience; But It's Only Pot, and has been clean for seven years.
A marijuana user for 14 years, she tried going cold-turkey several times before she checked into rehab in Sydney.
''In rehab they give you all these drugs, the major drug they give to you is Valium, and they give you other drugs for the cramps and codeine for the pain. I'm lucky I didn't get addicted to Valium.''
Professor Copeland said cannabis was more addictive than alcohol.
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