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Ibudilast: curing meth addiction with a single pill

The medication ibudilast (MN-166) is currently going through a human testing trial to see if it could be used to curb cravings for methamphetamine. The medication has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration though it has been a second testing phase of ibudilast and, if approved, it could become the first known cure for meth addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported on eleven paid volunteers addicted to meth who resided in a hospital unit for a three-week trial. They were intravenously injected with meth two or three times a week while they were treated with ibudilast. The researchers in charge determined that the combination was safe and the trial was sent to the second phase.

According to Aimee Swanson, the co-investor of the trial and research director at the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine, ibudilast “may dampen craving and improve cognitive functioning.” Ibudilast has been found to significantly reduce prime- and stress-induced reinstatement of methamphetamine seeking in rats (Beardsley, Shelton et al. 2010)

Methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that affects the neurotransmission of dopamine and norepinephrine. Meth over stimulates the amygdala which is the emotional control center of the brain and compromises brain circuits needed to control impulsive behaviors. The inability to control behavior and an amped up state filled with anxiety and paranoia make users prone to aggression and violence. Tolerance is built and this sets up a cycle of dependence, as the user is tricked into believing that he or she needs the drug in order to feel any joy or happiness.

The feeling of the ‘rush’ experienced by using methamphetamine is the result of a massive release of dopamine throughout the brain. Dopamine is involved in reward, pleasure and motivation. As methamphetamine increases the transfusion of dopamine throughout the brain, the brain gets conditioned to the increase of dopamine. When it doesn’t reach the same levels of dopamine, it tricks the brain into thinking that it doesn’t have the capacity to experience pleasure or happiness without the drug starting the vicious cycle of addiction.

Methamphetamine abuse will normally be characterized by several symptoms. Physically an individual who abuse meth may exhibit twitches or tremors, skin pockmarks, sunken in facial features, tooth decay and even hair loss. Other psychological symptoms may include:

  • Confusion and cognitive impairment
  • Hallucinations and/or delusions
  • Mood disturbances
  • Paranoia
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Increased euphoria

Methamphetamine has acute and chronic effects on the sympathetic nervous system and dopaminergic, serotonergic and noradrenergic neuronal networks. Most evidence of neuronal effects comes from animal research and reflects toxic damage to dopaminergic and serotonergic neuronal systems. (Beardsley, Shelton et al. 2010)

If ibudilast can block meth from interfering with glial cells, theoretically it would hinder signals in the central nervous system that meth is needs to create to feelings of happiness. Glial cells surround neurons in order to provide insulation between them and are among the most abundant cell types in the central nervous system.

A brain addicted to meth has been abused and needs time to heal. Understanding how meth affects the brain will help an addict in his or her recovery, as well as provide guidance for different treatment methods in the future.

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about treatment for methamphetamine addiction, you can call the Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405.

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