Could Ketamine Be an Effective Treatment for Cocaine Addiction? November 12, 2018 0 Ketamine Infusion Therapy

Cocaine addiction is overwhelming and causes prolonged cravings. Treatment usually involves detoxification and patient care with an emphasis on counseling and therapy. However, there could be a new, innovative treatment on the horizon because study results using ketamine are quite promising.

Ketamine Study by Columbia University:

Unfortunately, the addiction treatment methods that involve rewiring the pathways of the brain may not be enough to reverse the effects of cocaine abuse, even many years after a person being clean. The cravings a person has for cocaine might never subside and there’s no effective medication approved for treating cocaine addiction. Researchers from the Columbia University have been interested in exploring different treatments for drug abuse and recently published a paper in Molecular Psychiatry, which studied the effect of ketamine infusion therapy on cocaine self-administration.

Ketamine has been proven to have rapidly acting antidepressant qualities. The mechanism of action for it may involve the drug’s increased neuroplasticity activity, which makes brain cells more flexible. Could these effects mean ketamine could temporarily diminish the effects of cocaine-induced brain rewiring which leads to cravings?

Twenty volunteers who were addicted to cocaine participated in the research study. The participants were hospitalized for six days during each of the three phases of the study. On the fourth day of hospitalization each volunteer got one of three treatments by IV infusion; placebo (saline), ketamine or midazolam (placebo).

One day after receiving ketamine or the placebo via infusion, a study volunteer was asked to choose between immediate access to cocaine or money which would be paid the next day. Each person was presented with these options five times throughout the day of testing. It had been established previously that the amount of money and the amount of cocaine were such that a treatment which decreased cravings would shift the person’s preference from smoking or snorting cocaine to receiving money.

When the study volunteers received either the saline or midazolam placebo the day before testing, they would choose cocaine instead of the cash. However, when a participant received a ketamine infusion before testing day, they only chose cocaine 1.6 times out of the 5 offered. Surprisingly, a single ketamine infusion diminished the craving for cocaine the next day by two-thirds. Although this effect from ketamine wore off within a couple days for most participants, two participants were abstinent from cocaine for a whole two-week period of time during the study follow-up.

Conclusion Regarding Ketamine Infusions for Cocaine Addiction:

While the study findings are remarkable, hopefully it will be confirmed by other scientific research teams. If it turns out the results of the study can be reproduced, it could open up an entirely new possibility for treating cocaine addiction. It is possible ketamine temporarily interferes with the abnormal brain pathways associated with chemical dependence, but if it could it be done permanently is unknown.

The study will probably produce considerable interest, it is important to move forward cautiously because of the effect’s ketamine can have on people.  The temporary nature of the changes caused by ketamine infusion therapy will need to be further studied to find out if subsequent infusions could produce more sustainable results in people with cocaine addiction.

Little is known about long-term ketamine infusion therapy, but further studies about the drug are proceeding quickly. It will be interesting and educational to find out if whether the beneficial effects of ketamine could be useful in treating other types of substance use disorders. Despite certain limitations, medical science and addiction medicine are entering an era in which acute infusion therapy is becoming more common across all fields of medicine and for a range of different illnesses.



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