Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is considered a pretty common problem. OSA is when the muscles in the throat relax and contract during sleep which can cause interruptions in breathing. This can create irregularities in sleeping patterns which, in turn, can affect the quality of life in the sufferer, and in some cases (when the OSA is left untreated) it can increase the chances of developing other conditions such as high blood pressure or even type 2 diabetes


It is normal for the throat to relax and close up a little when sleeping and for most people this does not cause any problems. However for some it causes issues. One problem with OSA is that the symptoms only occur while the person is asleep, therefore they are not aware that they have it. There are many factors that can put people at risk of developing OSA including:

  • Being over weight
  • Being male
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being over the age of 40
  • Having a large neck
  • The menopause
  • Having a family history of OSA
  • Having nasal congestion

Studies about OSA and medical cannabis

At the moment there are no approved medications for people suffering from OSA so, naturally, researchers are on the hunt.

A recent study using Dronabinol shows promising results and the potential of a treatment with THC. Dronabinol is a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)[2] which was created to treat vomiting and nausea that comes from chemotherapy.

The 2017 study, sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago, has found promising results from Dronabinol. The 6 week study focused on a group of 73 adults, all of which suffered from moderate to severe OSA. 1 third were given 10mg of Dronabinol 1 hour before sleeping, 1 third were given 2.5mg and the last third were given a placebo.

The results showed that the AHI (apnea/hypopnea index, a way of measuring the symptoms of sleep apnea) of the group taking 10mg a day decreased significantly compared to those taking the placebo. They reported a general satisfaction with the treatment and an overall improvement in their sleepiness.

Due to the small scale of this study there is much more research needed on the effectiveness of a treatment with cannabinoids for OSA. However what they have already found is very promising.

[1] nhs.uk. (2017). Obstructive sleep apnoea

[2] Carley, D., Prasad, B., Reid, K., Malkani, R., Attarian, H., Abbott, S., Vern, B., Xie, H., Yuan, C. and Zee, P. (2017). Pharmacotherapy of Apnea by Cannabimimetic Enhancement, the PACE Clinical Trial: Effects of Dronabinol in Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Sleep.