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Researchers Turn to Lasers, Asthma Drugs to Combat Drug Addiction

Update Date: Apr 03, 2013 02:42 PM EDT
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For the millions of people in the world suffering from substance abuse, there is little help for those who want to quit. In the United States, for example, there is only counseling, rehabilitation centers and support programs like Narcotics Anonymous. However, for many people, those methods are ineffective, doing little to release them from the grips of their addiction. Some recent studies have pointed to surprising treatments to do just that.

According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, researchers performed a study with rats. Taking light-sensitive proteins called rhodopsins, the researchers inserted them into the rats' prefrontal cortex. In both rats and humans, individuals with cocaine addiction suffer from low activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for behavioral flexibility, decision making and impulse control. When researchers turned on the cells using a laser, the rats stopped suffering from the compulsions that are a hallmark of cocaine addiction.

In humans, the same treatment would not be performed with lasers though. Most likely, the treatment would be modified using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The treatment has already shown promise in treating indviduals with depression.

Another study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles employed the use of Ibudilast, or MN-166. The drug was developed in Japan and is marketed in Korea and Japan to treat asthma and complications from strokes, the Huffington Post reports.

However, in the first of the three phases of testing required for approval by the Food and Drug Administration, researchers looked at its safety for use to combat methamphetamine. A small trial with 11 methamphetamine users who were not seeking treatment found that it was as safe to use as a placebo in conjunction with meth. Researchers found that the drug may be able to prevent meth's activation of the glial cells in the brain, which would then cut the dependence on the drug.

Researchers have been trying to find a treatment for an addiction to methamphetamine and other opiates for over a generation. So far, the only treatment is methadone. However, because methadone is also an opiate, many people with opiate addiction can become addicted to methadone, as well as suffer from overdoses.

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