Cancer Drug Could Be Breakthrough Cure For Cocaine Addiction, Study Finds

By McCarton Ackerman 09/06/16

Researchers discovered that the experimental therapy inhibited cocaine-associated memories in animal recipients. 

Cancer Drug Could Be Breakthrough Cure For Cocaine Addiction, Study Finds

A drug being used in cancer therapy trials may instead be the key to a promising new treatment for cocaine addiction.

News Medical reported that the breakthrough came from researchers at Cardiff University in Wales, with their findings being published in the journal eLife. The trial drug, from pharmaceutical company Pfizer, may be able to treat cocaine addiction by wiping away the memories that trigger cravings.

"We have demonstrated that a single administration of a trial drug from Pfizer can completely obliterate cocaine associated memories and significantly accelerate the end of drug seeking behavior in animals,” said Professor Riccardo Brambilla from Cardiff University's School of Biosciences. "With this drug currently being used in cancer trials, it could be easily repositioned for treatment of cocaine addiction and other drugs of abuse."  

But while the early results are promising, the study only involved testing the drug on mice. The researchers acknowledged that human trials will need to take place before the drug can be marketed for treating cocaine addiction.

Cocaine addicts are well aware of what even the mere sight of the drug can trigger in them, a phenomenon that has long been confirmed in research studies. But in recent years, scientists have taken the first steps in developing drugs that could potentially revolutionize treatment for cocaine abuse.

In 2014, BuzzFeed reported that Dr. Stanley Glick, former head of the Department of Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience at Albany Medical College, created 18-MC, a drug that has seen great success in animals. Rats severely addicted to cocaine lost their will use after just a few doses of the drug, according to Glick. Initial tests on humans haven’t seen significant side effects that would make it unrealistic to use in treatment.

Although it could take years or even decades for these potential "cures" to hit the market, if they ever do, the medical field is largely optimistic that more of these similar treatments could soon revolutionize the way addiction is addressed. 

“We know that addiction is a disease and that ‘Just Say No’ is a delusion,” said Steve Hurst, founder and CEO of Savant HWP who is collaborating with Glick on developing 18-MC. “If your brain tells you to go drink, or do cocaine, or shoot heroin—that’s not willpower. This whole notion is a reason I think addiction medicine is such an emerging field. We understand a lot about the disease we didn’t understand 10 years ago.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.