27 September 2016

Could Ketamine Be Effective at Treating a Cocaine Addiction?

Treating cocaine addiction can be complicated due to the fact that the drug is so addictive and those affected often experience intense cravings long after they have stopped taking the substance. Treatment generally consists of detox and rehab with emphasis on counselling and therapy sessions for most people. However, a new treatment could be on the horizon, if the results of recent studies are anything to go by.

Promising Results

The use of ketamine as a treatment for cocaine addiction may sound strange to some; after all, how can one illegal drug be used to treat addiction to another one? But with research proving that ketamine can be effective for the treatment of those with severe depression and suicidal thoughts, there are some who believe that it could be used to treat illnesses such as cocaine addiction in the future.

Barrier to Overcoming a Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to treat because of the cravings that users experience and there is no medication available at the moment to lessen the withdrawal effects. Although there have been trials in recent years with positive results in animal models, scientists have been unable to replicate the results when human trials took place, according to Professor Wim van den Brink from the University of Amsterdam.

Since cocaine produces such euphoric effects, it is difficult for those who take it to resist. Scientists have been looking at using dopamine antagonists to block the effects of cocaine, but so far this has proved ineffective in humans due to the side effects. It makes it more difficult to find an effective treatment for overcoming a cocaine addiction.

Ketamine Possibilities

Addiction experts are now looking elsewhere for effective treatments for cocaine addiction and there has been renewed interest in the possibility of ketamine as a cocaine addiction treatment. Professor Van den Brink said, “There is a general trend at the moment in psychiatric research known as ‘repurposing’. The idea is to test drugs that are already approved for other types of disorders that may have nothing to do with the conditions for which you are now being tested. In this context, we are testing drugs with therapeutic indications unrelated to addiction and ketamine appears to be an interesting candidate.”

A study currently taking place in the UK and being funded by the Medical Research Council is looking for volunteers with alcoholism to test how ketamine could be used as a treatment. There have also been studies on the use of ketamine as a treatment for heroin addiction.

How Ketamine Could Help with Addiction

The glutamate pathway is said to be involved in addiction development and ketamine targets this pathway. By preventing the release of dopamine, ketamine could become an effective treatment for a whole range of addictions, including cocaine addiction. Although research is still in the early stages, experts believe that ketamine could become a potential treatment in the future.

There have already been a couple of human trials involving participants with cocaine addiction who received ketamine intravenously. Although the number of participants was very small, the results were interesting as they showed that ketamine helped to reduce cravings and caused participants to have a strong desire to start treatment.

Professor van den Brink said, “The limitation of this study was that it only showed effects on motivation and subjective reported feelings towards cocaine, but it did not prove ketamine that could induce behavioural changes, i.e. reduction in cocaine use in cocaine dependent subjects.”

Another study using ketamine in the treatment of cocaine addiction showed that there might be some effects on the objective behaviour of addicts. During the trial, patients were given ketamine, a placebo or an ineffective drug that produces similar side effects to ketamine. Afterwards, participants were given the choice between a monetary reward later on or cocaine there and then, and scientists found that those who had taken ketamine were more likely to opt for the monetary reward than those who had been given the inactive drug or the placebo.

Is Ketamine Dangerous as a Treatment for Addiction

Those with no experience of addiction may be wondering how scientists could even consider the possibility of using an illegal drug to treat cocaine addiction. Nevertheless, statistics show that the number of people who develop ketamine addiction is actually quite low. According to the 2015 Drug Misuse Report, only one per cent of those who use ketamine use it daily.

Professor van den Brink said, “There is actually two issues: Is ketamine addictive? And if so, should you give it anyway to cocaine-dependent patients? I would argue that the potential for addiction with ketamine is quite low because even though there has been recreational use for many years, we see very few patients who are addicted to the drug.”

It is believed that even with the slight risk of addiction, the benefits of using ketamine as an effective treatment for a severe cocaine addiction far outweigh any risks.

Source: Could ‘party drug’ ketamine be a treatment for cocaine addiction? (The International Business Times)

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