Credit: © Christian / Fotolia

Credit: © Christian / Fotolia

Cannabis derived drug may be the answer to sleep apnea

Cannabis derived drug may be the answer to sleep apnea, according to the latest research from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or making choking noises as you try to breathe. Your brain and body becomes oxygen deprived and you may wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.

Sleep apnea affects about 1 in every 5 Americans, and there are currently no drugs to treat it. The new study shows that a synthetic version of the main active ingredient in cannabis may help treat the disorder.

The drug is called dronabinol, and is derived from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the components in marijuana responsible for psychoactive effects.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke. “There is a tremendous need for effective, new treatments [for] obstructive sleep apnea,” says David W. Carley, a professor of biobehavioral health sciences at UIC.

The drug tested in this trial works by targeting the brain. “The CPAP device targets the physical problem but not the cause,” explains Dr. Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Northwestern Medicine Sleep Disorders Center.

The drug targets the brain and nerves that regulate the upper airway muscles. It alters the neurotransmitters from the brain that communicate with the muscles.”

When people take a pill to treat apnea, they are treated for the entire night,” adds Prof. Carley.

In the study, when compared to a CPAP machine, the drug reduced sleep apnea symptoms by up to 33 percent.

The authors conclude:

These findings support the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in patients with [obstructive sleep apnea]. In comparison to placebo, dronabinol was associated with lower [apnea/hypopnea index ], improved subjective sleepiness, and greater overall treatment satisfaction.”

By providing a path toward the first viable obstructive sleep apnea drug, our studies could have a major impact on clinical practice,” says Prof. Carley.

The study showing that a cannabis derived drug may be the answer to sleep apnea was published in the journal Sleep. 

Note: None of the information in our website is intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. The content on our website is for educational purposes only. 

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1. “Sleep Apnea – Overview & Facts.” Sleep Education, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

2. “Cannabinoid Drug Found Effective for Treating Sleep Apnea.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 4 Dec. 2017,
3. “Pharmacotherapy of Apnea by Cannabimimetic Enhancement, the PACE Clinical Trial: Effects of Dronabinol in Obstructive Sleep Apnea | Sleep | Oxford Academic.” Sleep, Oxford University Press, 7 Nov. 2017,
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