Synthetic THC May Help in the Treatment of Phobias

What are Phobias?

Phobias can be defined as an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation which poses little real danger but triggers anxiety and avoidance.  It should be noted that living with phobias can be very intrusive and draining as patients might experience   extreme and intense discomfort.   At its origins, the phobia typically stems from a rational fear which can be a rejection or failure, even though the individual has an irrational fear of the outside world, at its origins.

What is the therapy for Phobias?

 One of the best options as far as the treatmentof anxiety disorders like phobias is exposure-based therapy. a person suffering with  arachnophobia  (an excessive, irrational fear of spiders) for example  can be relieved of this fear by being “flooded” with everything that reminds them of spiders. The good aspect about exposure-based therapy is that at first individual will be afraid, but the fear will fade away eventually when the patient realize there is no rational basis for the overly intense fear response.

The flooding technique might not always be enough to completely eradicate the phobia but can certainly cause a memorable shock to the system. Cases have been reported of a patients who thought they had been cured of their phobia (implying that  they no longer had any fear in response to the exposure), but  who were still afraid when they confronted it outside of therapy.

Is THC Helpful In Phobia Treatment?

 According to a research conducted by a team of researchers based at the University of Michigan in January 2013 and published in the journal Neuropsychology, there is a possible utility of dronabinol (synthetic THC) in the treatment of phobias. They based their argument on past success using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to help extinguish conditioned fear in animals, which they believed could have the same effect on humans.

An experiment was designed in which they first used classical conditioning in which they exhibited the same fear in both situations (e.g. when a spider appeared or a bell was rung) once the participants associated an actual fear (or unconditioned stimulus, e.g. spiders) with an unrelated (or conditioned) stimulus (e.g. ringing of a bell),

the participants were split into groups  after they  had  learned to associate the conditioned stimulus (unrelated object) to the unconditioned stimulus (original fear) and 15 of them  received a placebo, and 14 of them  received dronabinol (synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]).

Each group was then administered the treatment or placebo to 2 hours before the exposure-based therapy began. The flooding process was completed once extinction occurred as a result of exposure-based therapy (implying that participants showed no fear response). The   researchers measured the participants skin conductance (which served as the measure of fear) 24 hours later and compared the groups.

The study revealed that, the THC group expressed lower levels of skin conductance than the placebo group, thus suggesting that THC may have helped break the association. The researchers then claimed THC may have prevented the recovery of conditioned fear.


Despite the short comings of this study, the discovery could be a promising one, given the fact that phobias are very debilitating in nature and that cannabinoid therapies are highly favorable and safer.  However, further research is still needed to determine if THC proves to be a useful additional tool in phobia treatment.

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