Aim: Nabilone is a synthetic cannabinoid prescription drug approved in Canada since 1981 to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. In recent years, off-label use of nabilone for chronic pain management has increased, and physicians have begun to express concerns about nabilone becoming a drug of abuse. This study evaluates the evidence for abuse of nabilone, which is currently ill-defined.
Study design: Scientific literature, popular press and internet databases were searched extensively for evidence of nabilone abuse. Focused interviews with medical professionals and law enforcement agencies across Canada were also conducted.
Findings: The scientific literature and popular press reviews found very little reference to nabilone abuse. Nabilone is perceived to produce more undesirable side effects, to have a longer onset of action and to be more expensive than smoked cannabis. The internet review revealed rare and isolated instances of recreational use of nabilone. The database review yielded little evidence of nabilone abuse, although nabilone seizures and thefts have occurred in Canada in the past few years, especially in Ontario. Most law enforcement officers reported no instances of nabilone abuse or diversion, and the drug has no known street value. Medical professionals reported that nabilone is not perceived to be a matter of concern with respect to its abuse potential.
Conclusions: Reports of nabilone abuse are extremely rare. However, follow-up of patients using nabilone for therapeutic purposes is prudent and should include assessment of tolerance and dependence. Prospective studies are also needed to definitively address the issue of nabilone abuse.