Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol for nighttime agitation in severe dementia

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2006 May;185(4):524-8. doi: 10.1007/s00213-006-0343-1. Epub 2006 Mar 7.


Rationale: 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.

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

Methods: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Dementia / complications*
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Dementia, Vascular / complications
  • Dementia, Vascular / psychology
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol / therapeutic use*
  • Electroencephalography / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens / adverse effects
  • Hallucinogens / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychomotor Agitation / drug therapy*
  • Psychomotor Agitation / etiology
  • Psychomotor Agitation / psychology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology


  • Hallucinogens
  • Dronabinol