Meth Addiction Cure Tested on Human Addicts
UCLA researchers hope the drug Ibudilast will be able to treat meth addiction by 2018.
The FDA has fast-tracked human trials of Ibudilast (also called MN-166), a potential cure for methamphetamine addiction. The drug was originally licensed as a treatment for multiple sclerosis, and may also become the first non-opiate treatment for heroin and opiate addiction. Currently, the only options for meth addicts are counseling, in-patient rehab or groups like Narcotics or Crystal Meth Anonymous. Recovering meth users have a high relapse rate and the drug is notoriously tough to kick. In the first phase of the study, UCLA researchers tested Ibudilast on 11 active meth addicts; the treatment passed the safety test and showed success in easing the addiction among test subjects. "Very preliminary results would indicate that Ibudilast may dampen craving and improve cognitive functioning," says Dr. Aimee Swanson, co-investigator on the trial and research director at the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine. Researchers believe that Ibudilast prevents glial cells—which have been linked to drug dependence—from activating in the central nervous system. "When you're on meth, your whole brain is saying, 'I need meth,'" says Swanson. "If you could block meth from interfering with glial, it would allow the messages that you would like to be sending and receiving to actually get to your brain. You could say, 'You know, rather than calling my dealer right now, I'm going to say no.'"
The second phase of the study is set to begin mid-summer, and will consist of a 12-week trial of 140 treatment-seeking meth addicts. The results should be released in early 2015. And if the results are positive, the larger phase three study would begin, leading to possible FDA approval by 2018. While the study looks promising now, experts say the small size of the study may impact the results. “It remains to be seen whether these findings hold up in larger studies where its effectiveness will be established," says Dr. David Sack, psychiatrist and CEO of Promises addiction treatment centers. "Nevertheless the importance of this finding cannot be overstated," Sack adds, saying that there is an “urgent national need” for a drug such as Ibudilast. "There are no effective treatments for amphetamine dependence despite more than a generation of research.”