Heart Drug Helps With Cocaine Addiction
> 2/29/2008 10:26:02 AM

Cocaine hijacks the reward system of the brain in order to induce craving for the drug. Scientists have been trying to understand exactly how it does this, and the general consensus has been that it manipulates two important neurotransmitters: dopamine and glutamate. However, readers of the advanced March issue of Nature Neuroscience may be surprised to see that the blood pressure drug Diltiazem seems to reduce cocaine cravings even though it does not directly manipulate levels of either dopamine or glutamate.

Diltiazem is a calcium channel blocker used to treat hypertension. Way back in 1995, researchers experimented on squirrel monkeys to see if Diltiazem could ameliorate some of the cardiovascular symptoms of cocaine use. Diltiazem did help keep blood pressure down, but wasn’t very effective at controlling heart-beat. The authors also commented that there seemed little therapeutic effect on addiction and did not follow up on its potential to reduce craving because it was not the primary purpose of the study.

This year, researchers at Harvard and Boston Universities, revived the issue by administering Diltiazem to addicted rats. The team, led by Chris Pierce, observed that Diltiazem disrupts the interaction between dopamine and glutamate and reduced cravings. It is also worth noting that calcium regulates protein kinase, which contributes to long-term learning, and Pierce speculated that this could be a way of affecting addiction that is independent from the traditionally suspected neurotransmitters.

The demonstration of calcium’s role in craving opens up an entirely new possible line of attack for addiction treatment. The early work with monkeys unfortunately suggests that calcium channel blockers will not be the magic bullet, but anything that can help addicts resist temptation even a little means that more people will complete the rocky transition to sobriety without stumbling.

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