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How Ketamine Could Be Used to Treat Alcoholism

Erasing memories isn't always a bad thing.

by Nick Rose
30 January 2017, 4:00pm

Usually, when humans consume the animal tranquiliser ketamine, it's to dissociate from their own bodies and vanish down the "K-hole," only to experience inevitable hardcore memory loss.

Known as Special-K outside of veterinary hospitals, ketamine blocks a brain reception called NMDA, which plays a key role in creating memories. But because of these memory-erasing qualities, researchers at the University College London (UCL) have begun to look at therapeutic uses for the drug, beyond partying.

And, as fate would have it, they are focusing on people who tend to party too much: heavy drinkers. While alcohol abuse is fairly easy to treat in the short-term, it's notoriously difficult to keep alcoholics from slipping once they re-enter their pre-treatment environments.

READ MORE: Here's Everything You Need to Know About Ketamine

Sights and sounds as subtle as condensation on a beer glass or the clinging of pints can trigger serious cravings and send problem drinkers further down the spiral of addiction. In these cases, fucking with memory could actually be a good thing because it could erase the association made between these subtle triggers and the "rewards" of drinking, to use Pavlovian jargon.

UCL researchers are hoping to block that association by administering ketamine to heavy drinkers (they haven't said how, in order to avoid bias in the study) and inhibiting NMDA right as the brain retrieves the memory caused by the trigger. In doing so, they hope to "disrupt" harmful patterns of behaviour, the Guardian reports.

"Memories that you form can be hijacked by drugs in some people," Ravi Das, one of the future study's lead researchers told The Guardian. "If you were an alcoholic you might have a strong memory of being in a certain place and wanting to drink. Those memories get continuously triggered by things in the environment that you can't avoid."

This might sound like a far-fetched method for treating alcoholism, but similar techniques with different drugs have been used to treat spider phobias and cocaine addiction.

Let's just hope the researchers here don't administer one hundred times the recommended dosage, like in a recent caffeine study gone awry.