De-addiction: Cocaine cravings zapped by magnets

Doctors in Italy tracked the therapy’s effects using urinalysis to see if addicts used cocaine.

Stefano, a 46-year-old cocaine addict from Padua, Italy, had all but accepted that he might die from his habit. He’d just relapsed after a seven-month stay at a rehab facility, his third failed attempt at getting clean. Stefano (who asked that his last name not be used) couldn’t go more than two days without the drug.

So when he read an article about an unusual new method to treat drug addicts, he figured he didn’t have much to lose. The study described how local researchers were using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation to counteract cravings. He would have to sit in a chair while doctors waved a figure-8-shaped wand over his head to fire magnetic waves into his prefrontal cortex. “A little bit just to make my family happy, I said I would try,” Stefano says. Now, the results of the study, involving 29 cocaine addicts seeking treatment at a Padua clinic, are out. They suggest that the magnetic stimulation treatment significantly reduced both cocaine use and cravings.

Stefano says his desire for cocaine diminished dramatically after several sessions under the magnet. “I can’t explain it,” he says. “It happened very quickly.” The findings presented in the European journal Neuropsychopharmacology by Luigi Gallimberti, a doctor at the University of Padova Medical School, and Alberto Terraneo, a physician who treats addicts, are generating optimism among addiction researchers, because there are no effective drug treatments available for cocaine addicts. There is also a theoretical framework to explain why stimulating the brain with magnets might work, since experiments earlier this year produced similar effects in cocaine-addicted rats.

Doctors in Italy tracked the therapy’s effects using urinalysis to see if addicts were using cocaine, as well as asking them to rate their cravings on a scale of 1 to 10. Of 16 who got the treatment, delivered in once-a-day sessions for five days and then once a week, 11 stayed sober compared to only three of 13 in an untreated group.

“Patient improvement is pretty strong,” says Antonello Bonci, scientific director of the intramural research programme at the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse and one of the authors of the study. “It’s a first step towards opening a neurobiological treatment for cocaine addiction,” says Bonci. “We have nothing so far to help treat cocaine addicts besides cognitive therapy and psychological support.”

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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