It’s estimated that the number of visits to emergency rooms because of cannabis overdose tripled between 2011 and 2019, a period of time when recreational and medical cannabis was legalized across many states.
Heavy users may present with cannabis toxicity or cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, but so far there are no FDA approved drugs to treat acute overdoses of cannabis or synthetic cannabinoids like Spice and K2.
There have been case reports of successful treatment of with a continuous naloxone infusion, but a new drug is needed for acute cannabis overdose (ACO) and the award of an $850,000 grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to contract development and manufacturing organization IRISYS LLC may now see this come to fruition.
San Diego-based IRISYS have been given the grant to develop an injectable form of a drug called drinabant, which binds to the same brain receptor as THC, blocking its activity.
Drinabant is currently an investigational drug being developed by Opiant Pharmaceuticals, an NCATS collaborator, but orally ingested drinabant is absorbed too slowly to reverse the clinical manifestations of ACO.
The hope is that an injectable form of the drug will act more quickly to reverse the symptoms of ACO rapidly, thus limiting the time spent in an emergency room.
Symptoms of ACO include anxiety, feelings of paranoia, agitation, visual and auditory hallucinations, and nausea. The popularity of cannabis edibles is believed to be behind increasing reports of acute overdose as they often contain much higher amounts of THC than available through smoking a joint. Edibles are usually in the form of brownies, cookies and candies, so young children are especially vulnerable because these may be easily mistaken for treats.
"The need to quickly and effectively reverse ACO symptoms, including in vulnerable populations like children, is a strong motivating factor pushing us at IRISYS every day to put in the effort needed to ensure that this drug is ready for clinical trials as soon as possible," stated Robert Giannini, Ph.D., IRISYS president and CSO/CTO.