Meg Haney, G92
Treating "Chronic" Withdrawal
Meg Haney, G92, envisions a treatment for marijuana addiction.
The decriminalization of marijuana usage by many U.S. communities
has drawn new attention to the popular substance's addictive potential.
Meg Haney, G92, codirector of the Columbia University Substance
Use Research Center, has been studying habitual marijuana use for
"People seek treatment for chronic marijuana use because
they have tried to quit and haven't succeeded," said Haney, who has a Ph.D. in
psychology from Tufts. "They worry about the health consequences of marijuana.
They feel professionally stuck, that marijuana has impeded their progress in
life. I also think they feel distressed that they can't stop."
Haney's research, supported by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse, takes place at a residential laboratory close to campus in New
York. Study participants, who are not interested in marijuana treatment
and who smoke at least seven marijuana cigarettes a day, sleep
and eat in individual rooms and smoke marijuana under controlled
conditions. Each room has video cameras and microphones so
that Haney and her team can monitor participants around the clock
and collect data on cognitive behavior, sleep patterns, mood, and
food intake. Haney has found that participants experience classic
withdrawal symptomsirritability, anxiety, disrupted sleepwhen given
placebo marijuana cigarettes.
Haney now focuses on treatment. She has tested how certain
drugs, like the antidepressant Bupropion (also known by the brand
names Wellbutrin and Zyban) and the mood stabilizer
(divalproex sodium), might help chronic marijuana users cope with
their withdrawal symptoms. Encouraging lab results indicate that
Dronabinol, a cancer drug containing an active ingredient in marijuana,
may be an effective treatment option.
Will there be a patch? "With marijuana, we are not dealing with
people being on medication for the rest of their lives," said Haney, who also
researches cocaine dependence. "It would be something to help them during the
first month or two when they have just quit smoking and when withdrawal is
peaking. You just want to transition them away from smoking every day, and we
think a medication might help."
Photo by Alonso Nichols