Is Exercise One of The Keys To Combating Meth Addiction?

By McCarton Ackerman 10/24/16

A recent study revealed the unlikely combination that could help fight meth addiction.

Is Exercise One of The Keys To Curbing Meth Addiction?

It may seem counterintuitive to use meth in combating meth addiction, but a new study has found that combining the drug with exercise can be a helpful recovery tool.

The findings, published in the newest issue of the FASEB Journal, came from researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York. They used lab mice which had a removed suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), known as the region in the brain’s hypothalamus that functions as the body’s master circadian clock. The disturbances in their circadian rhythm and metabolism due to not having an SCN are similar to what substance users experience during addiction.

Medical Daily reported that the scientists gave the mice a dose of methamphetamine and then had them exercise, ultimately finding that pairing the two activities restored their circadian rhythm. The SCN removal resulted in mice losing contact with the oscillators that control it, including the methamphetamine-sensitive circadian oscillator (MASCO), but meth and exercise actually sparked feedback to the oscillator and allowed it to serve as a newly activated circadian clock.

“Our idea was that if you pair a reward, in this case access to the running wheel, along with methamphetamine in 24-hour intervals over a period of time, the animal’s fragmented sleep/wake cycles would acclimatize to the 24-hour cycles, a process we call entrainment and consolidation,” said study co-author Oliver Rawashdeh in a statement.

“By using the principles of learning and memory, we may have rewired the brain’s circuitry, activating a new clock—a form of plasticity—using the same stimulus that caused addiction in the first place, methamphetamine,” he added. “This was necessary in order to transfer the euphoric and pleasurable characteristics associated with the drug over to a healthy stimulus—exercise.”

Exercise has long been seen as a tool that can aid in addiction recovery. Physiologically, it stimulates the growth of new neurons that help in restoring the circadian clock, which ultimately decreases the chance of relapse. But mentally, exercise is a valuable outlet for releasing pent-up or difficult emotions and also produces endorphins that create positive feelings.

“I don’t regularly attend meetings, but exercise is a huge component of my recovery,” a recovering heroin user told The Fix in January 2012. “I don’t believe anyone who’s an addict can just stop engaging in that behavior and have that be a sustainable situation … For me, exercise was a very constructive physical outlet for the emotions I had.”

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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.