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Down the Rabbit Hole: The Magic Anti-Addiction Pill

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There’s a magic pill to cure certain kinds of addiction. Yes, you read that correctly.

Researchers at The University of Texas in Austin successfully stopped cocaine and alcohol addiction in rats using a drug already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat high blood pressure.

Led by Hitoshi Morikawa, associate professor of neuroscience at UT, researchers trained rats to associate either a black or white room with cocaine or alcohol. When the addicted rats had a choice of going into either room, they nearly always picked the room associated with their dependency.

Running the Maze

This process took place over a number of weeks, until the rats were given a daily dose of the antihypertensive drug, isradipine. On the first day, rats still preferred the room associated with their chemical dependency, but on subsequent days after the initial dose, they no longer showed a preference. Researchers believe the drug caused the rats to forget the environmental cues correlated with their substance use.

“The isradipine erased memories that led them to associate a certain room with cocaine or alcohol,” said Morikawa. In other words, their lack of preference suggested the addiction memories weren’t just suppressed, but gone entirely.

How Does it Work?

This study explains isradipine blocks a certain type of ion channel in the brain. After several doses of the drug, cell channels in the brain become blocked, resulting in weakened (or erased) trigger memories.

This is huge; the treatment would be the first of its kind – if it’s ultimately found to be effective on humans. There are already several medications that can prevent the euphoric feelings associated with addictive drugs, but isradipine takes it a step further, targeting the associations someone has with the experience leading up to taking a drug.

“Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted,” Morikawa said. “Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted.”

Additional Reading: Can a Common Blood Pressure Drug Wipe Memories of Cocaine Use?

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