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New sleep apnea pill derived from cannabis

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Sleep apnea, a condition affecting more than 12 million Americans, can lead to a host of health problems, including heart disease, and a new treatment containing ingredients derived from cannabis is being developed to help those with the disorder. (KABC)

Sleep apnea, a condition affecting more than 12 million Americans, can lead to a host of health problems including heart disease. But, a new treatment containing ingredients derived from cannabis is being developed to help those with the disorder.

Getting a good night's sleep hasn't been easy for Lisa Smith as each night has been the same - tossing and turning and staying awake.

Smith was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2014 after her daughter overheard her trying to sleep.

"She says, 'You sound like somebody is in that room starting motorcycles in your room.' She said, 'You snore real loud and sometimes you're not coming back,'" Smith said.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder that can cause a person's breathing to start and stop during sleep.

Doctors prescribed Smith with a CPAP machine to help her restless nights.

"The CPAP, although it helps me sleep, I get these marks and I've got to wait all day and try to pump my face back up because I got the marks all over my face," she said.

Researchers, however, have begun studying a new pill that could change that.

The medication is known as dronabinol. If approved, the synthetic form of cannabis would be taken once at nighttime, according to Dr. Roneil Malkani of Northwestern Medicine.

"It is a medication that we think acts on nerve cells in the brain that activate the muscles in the upper airway," Malkani, a specialist in sleep medicine, said.

It helps keep them open for more restful sleep, which is just what Smith longed for.

"If it will put me to sleep, I'll do it," she said with excitement.

The drug has been used to help cancer patients gain weight and control nausea.

The dosage for sleep apnea, though, is much smaller and researchers are hopeful the only side effect patients will experience is a good night's sleep.

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