Dronabinol for the treatment of agitation and aggressive behavior in acutely hospitalized severely demented patients with noncognitive behavioral symptoms

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2014 Apr;22(4):415-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2012.11.022. Epub 2013 Apr 15.


Objective: Behavioral disturbances occur frequently in demented individuals and greatly increase the burden of their care. The efficacy of pharmacotherapeutic treatment options is modest. This study was conducted to explore the efficacy and safety of dronabinol as an adjunctive treatment for agitation and aggressive behavior in severely demented patients.

Methods: Using a retrospective systematic chart review, we studied 40 inpatients from the McLean Hospital Geriatric Neuropsychiatry Inpatient Unit diagnosed with dementia and treated with dronabinol for behavioral or appetite disturbances. A group of geriatric psychiatrists consulted medical records to rate the patients' behaviors prior to initiation of dronabinol treatment and following up to seven days of treatment, using the Pittsburgh Agitation Scale, Clinical Global Impression, and Global Assessment of Functioning. Data on percentage of food consumed at each meal, sleep duration, and adverse events were also collected from medical records.

Results: The addition of dronabinol to patients' treatment regimens was associated with significant decreases in all domains of the Pittsburgh Agitation Scale. There were also significant improvements in Clinical Global Impression scores, sleep duration and percentage of meals consumed during the treatment periods. Twenty-six adverse events were recorded during dronabinol treatment, none of which led to medication discontinuation.

Conclusion: This report represents the largest studied cohort of dementia patients treated with dronabinol to date and confirms earlier reports that dronabinol can serve as an adjunctive treatment for neuropsychiatric symptoms in dementia. Further research, including prospective controlled trials, is needed to clarify dronabinol's role in treating noncognitive behavioral symptoms of demented individuals.

Keywords: Dementia; behavioral disturbances; dronabinol.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression* / psychology
  • Anorexia / drug therapy
  • Anorexia / psychology
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dementia / drug therapy*
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Dronabinol / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Psychomotor Agitation / drug therapy*
  • Psychomotor Agitation / psychology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Dronabinol