Scientists based in the UK say that ketamine could be used to treat alcohol addiction, and are planning a study to test their hypothesis. Psychologists at University College London say that alcohol-related memories can often make addicts relapse, and believe the drug could be used to weaken or erase those memories completely. As such, the illicit party drug could help stop harmful patterns of behavior, reports The Guardian.
"The main problem [with alcohol addiction] is the really high relapse rate after treatment," said one of the lead researchers, Ravi Das, in an interview with the publication. "People can successfully quit using over the short term while they're being monitored in the hospital… but when they return home they're exposed to those environmental triggers again."
There is increasing evidence within neuroscience that when a memory is accessed, it is liable to being modified before going back into storage. This happens because a memory's encoding is temporarily destabilized when it is recalled, which in turn makes it possible for the memory to be altered.
The scientists' plan is to intentionally evoke alcohol-related memories in the study's participants, then disrupt the memory, and then give them either a ketamine infusion or a placebo. More than 50 people have already taken part in the trial so far, and the researchers plan to include 90 people in total.
Each of the participants is a heavy drinker, but none fit the clinical description of an alcoholic. Scientists will monitor the participants' drinking habits for a year after they participate in the test, and measure if and how they are modified.
While the psychologists anticipate general dissatisfaction with the idea that a recreational drug could be used to treat alcohol addiction, they are committed to their plan.
"There's just the general social attitude that everything that's illegal is terrible," said Das. "There will obviously be that kind of narrow-sighted pushback. But if it's safe and effective enough it should be recommended."
While ketamine is widely known as a party drug, it's also routinely used in medicine as an anesthetic, enabling patients to go through painful procedures with more ease. There has also been a substantial amount of research in recent years linking the drug to treating depression.
Last year, THUMP investigated why people use ketamine on dancefloors by having an extended interview with an assistant professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology from the University of Colorado.
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