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What is trichotillomania? And how can this specific type of THC help?

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Can you not stop pulling out your hair (trichotillomania)? Do you know someone who does that? This Body Focussed Repetitive Behavior(BFRB) can be reduced by a synthetic THC.

Hair pulling aka trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is an irresistible urge to pull out hair from one’s own scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of the body. It comes under the umbrella of Body Focussed Repetitive Behaviors (BFRB). BFRBs represent any chronic behavior that causes a person to consistently cause physical damage to oneself. It happens unintentionally through a compulsive act to relieve anxiety. (1)

According to HuffPost Canada, two to four percent of Canadians live with a BFRB. That equals 1 to 2 million children and adults in Canada. BFRBs are often left undiagnosed. There is a lack of education and awareness among health professionals and sufferers. Many who do have a BFRB may not even realize that it’s a medical condition. (1)

Hair pulling from the scalp often leaves patchy bald spots, which causes significant distress. It can interfere with social or work functioning. People with trichotillomania may go to great lengths to disguise the loss of hair. (2)

What is dronabinol?

A recent THC study has some good news for those affected with Trichotillomania.

trichotillomania
The molecular structure of dronabinol. Photo by: PubChem

According to the pilot study conducted by the University of Minnesota, dronabinol, a synthetic delta9-THC, appears to regulate glutamate which has been associated with BFRBs and OCD. This result offers promise in reducing such compulsive behavior. (3)  Dronabinol is an isomer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is renowned as a potential anti-emetic, analgesic, and appetite-stimulant. (4)

During the study, 12 women suffering from compulsive hair-pulling were given dronabinol (2.5 mg- 15 mg) daily, for 12 weeks. Reductions in trichotillomania symptoms were observed in nine of them with no negative cognitive effects. (3)

What makes dronabinol effective?

Our body always works towards achieving homeostasis. Homeostasis is a self-regulating process by which biological systems tend to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions. For example, normal blood pressure sugar level, or body temperature.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our body helps maintain homeostasis. Our body produces endocannabinoids for ECS receptors to be able to support our ECS and maintain healthy bodily functions (homeostasis). But a deficiency of endocannabinoids can disrupt the regular functioning of our body and can cause anxiety, migraine, chronic pain, etc. This deficiency could potentially cause trichotillomania and other BFRBs.

Thus, making a cannabinoid a suitable cure in the absence of endocannabinoids. (5)

According to the TLC Foundation, causes behind BFRB’s could also lie in the environment, age of onset, stressors, temperament, and even genetic predisposition. Finally, it all depends on how one’s body interacts with cannabis. For some, THC may increase anxiety. If THC reduces anxiety, it could reduce the symptoms of BFRBs.  

Nevertheless, the promising results indicate that the usage of the dronabinol may be useful against other BFRBs as well.

Footnote(s)

1. Robertson, Sarah. “Yes, I Literally Pull My Hair out — so Do Millions of Canadians.” HuffPost Canada, 7 Oct. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.ca/sarah-robertson/in-support-of-hair-pullers_b_4055162.html.
2. “Trichotillomania (Hair-Pulling Disorder).” St. Clair Hospital, www.stclair.org/services/mayo-clinic-health-information/diseases-and-conditions/CON-20228105/.
3. Grant, Jon E., et al. “Dronabinol, a Cannabinoid Agonist, Reduces Hair Pulling in Trichotillomania: A Pilot Study.” Psychopharmacology, vol. 218, no. 3, 19 May 2011, pp. 493–502, 10.1007/s00213-011-2347-8.
4.PubChem. “Dronabinol.” Nih.gov, PubChem, 2019 pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Dronabinol.
5. Nick Jicomes. “What Is the Endocannabinoid System and What Is Its Role?” Leafly, 12 Dec. 2016, www.leafly.ca/news/science-tech/what-is-the-endocannabinoid-system.





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