Can Betel Nut Addicts Be Cured By Anti-Smoking Drugs?

By Brent McCluskey 11/09/15

Betel nuts hit the same brain receptors as nicotine.

Raw Betel Nuts

People around the world who are looking for an inexpensive high are turning to the betel nut for a quick and easy fix.

The betel nut—a seed grown through out Asia that has become a go-to drug for users—is the world's fourth most-used stimulant after caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, and has hooked somewhere between 200 million to 600 million daily users. In small quantities, consuming betel can cause alertness and a feeling of euphoria. However, long-term use can cause oral cancer as well as serious dependence.

But new research from University of Florida (UF) Health has discovered there may be treatment for those who can’t kick their betel nut addiction, and it may be a similar approach to how one would go about ditching their smoking habit.

The recent study, published in the PLOS ONE journal, showed that arecoline, the betel nut’s active ingredient, hits the same brain receptor proteins as nicotine. This means the drugs on the market used to help smokers, such as Chantix, may also be able to treat those with betel nut addiction.

“This is the first time that there's even a potential avenue for treating this dependence, which exists in probably hundreds of millions of people,” said Roger L. Papke, a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of pharmacology and therapeutics.

More research and case studies need to be conducted to determine how effective smoking drugs would be for betel addiction, but Papke is optimistic and hopes the findings will receive the international attention they deserve. The problem? Betel nut addiction is mostly prevalent in countries where there aren’t many resources for this area of scientific research.

“It's not a problem that's going to go away,” Papke said. “We have a discovery and we need to realize the potential of the discovery to better the human condition.”

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.