This Drug Could “Erase” Memories of Addiction
Remember how in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, scientists were able to wipe out Charlie’s memories of his former girlfriend? Well, it looks like researchers are on the verge of being able to do this for memories of substance abuse.
At least that’s the takeaway from a recent study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. In this groundbreaking experiment, a medication was shown to actually reduce the rate of relapse by erasing subconscious memories associated with addiction.
As if this didn’t already sound strange enough, the medicine in question is a common blood pressure pill. That’s right, isradipine (sold under the brand names DynaCirc and Prescal) is showing real promise at treating both alcohol and cocaine dependence.
The exact mechanism isradipine has on the brain is explained below, but, in laymen’s terms, it removes the environmental cues many addicts associate with drug use. These are the “people, places, and things” that recovering addicts and alcoholics are supposed to change.
Hitoshi Morikawa, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin, led the study. When asked about the potential benefit his work could have on those struggling with addiction, Morikawa said,
“Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted. Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted” (Consumer Affairs).
What Exactly Does This Drug Do?
So, a blood pressure medication that erases subconscious triggering memories? Sounds like something from a science fiction book. Sounds too good to be true, right? Except it isn’t. This is 100% real life.
Morikawa’s experiment used rats that researchers had given both cocaine and alcohol. The lab rats were then trained to associate the drugs with either a black or white room.
Afterwards, the rats would always choose the room they associated with drugs. This safely mimicked the environmental cues that addicts deal with in early-recovery. Things like driving down a certain street, hearing a certain song, or even smelling a certain smell can all trigger the brain to experience intense drug cravings.
What’s interesting is that after the lab rats were given high doses of isradipine, they no longer chose the room associated with drugs. This led researchers to study the exact mechanism of isradipine on the brain. What they found was nothing short of miraculous.
How Does it Work?
It’s no secret that heavy and persistent drug abuse actually rewires the brain. Different drugs change different neural pathways, but all involve serotonin and dopamine.
Well, when blood pressure medication is introduced to the body, it blocks a specific ion pathway that reverts the brain back to how it was before drugs rewired it. I’m not certain on how that’s achieved, after all I’m no doctor. I trust it works though.
Through using isradipine, and possibly other hypertensive medications, the brain “forgets” subconscious pleasure cues associated with substance abuse. That’s pretty amazing!
There are some precautions to keep in mind. First, you shouldn’t go out and start popping blood pressure pills if you’re struggling with addiction. That could have some potentially disastrous side effects.
Consult with your doctor and see what they have to say. Also, remember that taking other depressants while on blood pressure medication is dangerous. So, let’s say your doctor prescribes a course of “isradipine therapy.” If you happen to relapse on alcohol, opioids, or benzo’s while taking the medication – seek medical attention immediately!
Regardless of the dangers, this is a huge breakthrough for addiction medicine. It’s exactly this sort of outside the box thinking that’s so desperately needed in the field. It’s this spirit of innovation and experimentation that’ll help us fight addiction in years to come.