How Magnetic Pulses Could Be Breakthrough Treatment For Cocaine Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 12/07/15

A new treatment better than medication could be on the horizon.

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A new study has uncovered a potential breakthrough in treating cocaine addiction by stimulating part of the brain with magnetic pulses.

The researchers analyzed a form of treatment called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. The relatively new method uses magnetic pulses to target the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that controls impulsive behavior, but often has low activity in cocaine addicts. It costs approximately $350 per treatment, but is covered by several major insurance companies and can be done on an outpatient basis. The findings were published in the latest issue of the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.

Study co-author Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, chief of clinical psychoneuroendocrinology and neuropsychopharmacology at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, led his research team in analyzing 32 long-term cocaine users who were seeking treatment. Half of the patients received a range of medications to treat symptoms related to cocaine addiction, while the other half were given 13 minutes of transcranial magnetic stimulation once a day for five days and then once a week for three more weeks.

One month later, 69% of those in the stimulation group passed all drug tests for cocaine use, compared to 19% in the medication group. Participants in the stimulation group also reported lower cravings for the drug and did not report any significant side effects.

"It underlies the fact that cocaine addiction and addiction as a whole is a biological process and not just people of weak character," said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Addiction is considered a brain disease because these drugs actually change the brain—change the structure and how the brain works—and these changes can be long-lasting."

The only slight bias of the study was that patients with major depression, alcoholism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder were excluded from participating. Leggio and his team now plan to conduct the same study with a greater sample pool over a longer period of time.

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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.