[PHNUTR-L] New study finds N-acetylcysteine helps to reduce cocaine
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD
fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com
Wed Dec 14 08:17:49 PST 2005
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Public release date: 13-Dec-2005
Contact: Courtney Rees
crees at gymr.com
New study finds common herbal supplement helps to reduce cocaine cravings
Research released at ACNP Annual Meeting
A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests
that a common over-the-counter herbal supplement can reduce the cravings
associated with chronic cocaine use. This research, released at the
American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's (ACNP) annual conference
is among the first to identify N-acetylcysteine (NAC) as a potential
agent to modulate the effects of cocaine addiction. There is also early
evidence in animal models of addiction to suggest that this chemical
works similarly in the treatment of heroin addiction, and possibly
NAC is available over the counter as an herbal supplement known for its
antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are agents that clean up damaging free
radicals in the body and are therefore thought to slow down the aging
process of cells. The research was conducted specifically on because of
its known metabolic pathway in the brain – affecting one of the same
proteins as cocaine use.
"Cocaine is highly addictive and can have devastating effects on the
health and well being of users," says lead researcher Peter Kalivas,
Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurosciences at the
Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). "The discovery that a
readily available herbal supplement can reduce the intense cravings
associated with cocaine use is an important finding for individuals
undergoing treatment for cocaine addiction. Reduced craving might help
addicted individuals restrain from abusing cocaine."
In the first phase of the study, Dr. Kalivas and the research team
conditioned rats on a regimen of cocaine to establish their addiction.
The rats in the treatment group were then treated with NAC. After
treatment, the cocaine-addicted rats exposed to NAC were significantly
less likely to seek out cocaine than those without NAC. Those treated
with NAC ceased to actively seek cocaine, but showed normal food-seeking
In the second phase of the study headed by Drs. Robert Malcolm, Hugh
Myrick, Steve LaRowe, and Pascale Mardikian in the Department of
Psychiatry at MUSC, NAC treatment was investigated in a small inpatient
study (n=15) involving non-treatment seeking cocaine-dependent subjects.
In this phase of research, subjects were asked to look at pictures that
were either neutral (e.g., trees, boats) or cocaine-related (e.g., drug
paraphernalia). Those individuals treated with NAC reported less craving
for cocaine and spent less time looking at the cocaine-related pictures.
In addition, when using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
test, subjects treated with NAC had reduced brain activity in the
prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain activated during cocaine
craving and used to modulate the addictive behavior of chronic cocaine
use. An open label trial, which was recently completed, indicated that
cocaine-dependent patients could take NAC on an extended outpatient
basis, with minimal side effects. More importantly, patients taking
higher doses of NAC were more likely to complete the trial, providing
further indication of the potential benefits of NAC.
"The potential to use NAC for the treatment of individuals addicted to
cocaine is a major finding," emphasized Dr. Kalivas. "For those
individuals who have the desire to end their addictive habit, a NAC
supplement might help to control their cravings."
A larger clinical trial that will follow 282 cocaine-dependent
individuals has just begun in order to further understand and
corroborate how NAC works in the brain to reduce cocaine craving. Dr.
Kalivas stresses that while the initial findings are very promising, the
widespread use of NAC in cocaine treatment is not advised until larger
scale studies are complete.
In addition to its antioxidant properties, NAC is currently used in a
variety of other ways: to counteract the effects of an overdose of
acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol®), to break up mucus in respiratory
ailments, to lessen the symptoms of colds or the flu, and even to reduce
the effects of hangovers. It is important to note that over-the-counter
NAC may not be produced in the same manner as the prescription version
used in this study, and that all herbal supplements should be used in
Cocaine is an illegal drug that acts as a powerful stimulant in the
body. There are approximately 1.5 million Americans dependent on or
abusing cocaine (i.e., chronic users). In addition, 2.7 percent of the
general U.S. population has tried cocaine during their lifetime. Adults
aged 18 to 25, particularly men, have the highest rates of cocaine use.
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD < fivestar at nutritionucanlivewith.com >
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