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Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol for nighttime agitation in severe dementia



Nighttime agitation occurs frequently in patients with dementia and represents the number one burden on caregivers today. Current treatment options are few and limited due to substantial side effects.


The aim of the study was to measure the effect of the cannabinoid dronabinol on nocturnal motor activity.


In an open-label pilot study, six consecutive patients in the late stages of dementia and suffering from circadian and behavioral disturbances—five patients with Alzheimer’s disease and one patient with vascular dementia—were treated with 2.5 mg dronabinol daily for 2 weeks. Motor activity was measured objectively using actigraphy.


Compared to baseline, dronabinol led to a reduction in nocturnal motor activity (P=0.028). These findings were corroborated by improvements in Neuropsychiatric Inventory total score (P=0.027) as well as in subscores for agitation, aberrant motor, and nighttime behaviors (P<0.05). No side effects were observed.


The study suggests that dronabinol was able to reduce nocturnal motor activity and agitation in severely demented patients. Thus, it appears that dronabinol may be a safe new treatment option for behavioral and circadian disturbances in dementia.

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This study complied with current regulations in the Federal Republic of Germany, where it was conducted.

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Correspondence to Sebastian Walther.

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Walther, S., Mahlberg, R., Eichmann, U. et al. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol for nighttime agitation in severe dementia. Psychopharmacology 185, 524–528 (2006).

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