Sask. Scientists Test Way to Reduce Lure of Addictive Drugs

Sask. Scientists test way to reduce lure of addictive drugs

Researchers in Saskatchewan have discovered a way to block a pathway in the brain's pleasure receptors that are involved in drug addiction.


The team hopes the findings will lead to a universal therapy that works regardless of what drug an addict abuses.

Many drugs of abuse exert their rewarding effects on the brain's ventral tegmental area. So far, Canadian scientists have found a peptide that appears to block a signalling pathway in the brain's ventral tegmental area, an area stimulated by drug abuse.

Psychiatry Prof. Xia Zhang of the University of Saskatchewan and his team gave nicotine and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, to laboratory rats.

The lab animals were then treated with the blocking peptide or salt as a control, and a behavioural test was set up for the rats.

"So the idea is, if they were seeking the rewarding effects of their drug they were trained that they got the drugs in the white box," said Jamie Van Cleemput, a graduate student and co-author of the study.

"If they were seeking a rewarding effect, they would spend time in the white box. But if they weren't seeking the rewarding effect they would spend equal time in each box."

The results suggest the peptide reduces the lure of drugs, a finding that may eventually lead to a new strategy for treating drug addiction in humans.

Before the method could ever be tested in humans, Zhang's team has a lot of work ahead of them in the laboratory.

"First of all, we have to prove that this peptide can be used to treat heroin and alcohol, cocaine," said Zhang.

Even if the peptide proves effective for other addictive drugs, the potential therapy won't be available to addicts for some time. Primate studies and human clinical trials will have to be done first to show it is safe and effective.

Psychologists point out that a pill is not necessarily a quick fix in getting over an addiction.

The molecule also showed a downside, in that it not only prevents highs from drugs, but also prevents enjoyment from other pleasures such as food and sex.

The study, which will be published in the March issue of the journal Nature Medicine, was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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