Because its effect on the human body are so extreme, crystal methamphetamine is among one of the most addictive, and most dangerous drugs currently available. The strength of the drug makes addiction almost inevitable, and opens up serious health risks including memory loss, aggression, psychotic behavior, malnutrition, severe dental problems, and serious damage to the cardiovascular system.
According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 12 million people have tried this extremely dangerous drug, and 1.2 million used it within a year, and around 440,000 people use it habitually, caught in a serious cycle of addiction. Because the drug offers such an intense high, attempting to break the addiction can often be a very hard process, with a long and rough withdraw period that causes many people to relapse.
However, a recent study from the University of Arkansas School for Medical Science, led by Dr. Eric Peterson, has developed a medication with some promise that can release the physical hold of meth on a user, creating an easier pathway to allow him or her to truly pursue recovery.
A medication that affects addiction at its source, neurotransmitters
This new, promising medication uses anti-bodies called adeno-associated viruses, or AAVs, a type of benign virus that affect how the brain receives neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical "messages" that are received by the brain to make it function, directly impacting the way you think or feel.
Meth, as with many other potentially abuses substances, brings extremely high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, that produces feelings of pleasure and well-being. Normal pleasurable activities, such as exercise or sexual activity, generally produce dopamine increases of 100 units.
Drugs develop their addictive properties by massively inflating the level of dopamine in the brain, but methamphetamine inflates it to a level even stronger then all other illicit drugs. Cocaine overwhelms the brain with dopamine levels around 300 units, but meth can release up to 1,250 units.
Such an intense high produces a strong craving for another hit after its affects have faded. That is why meth can have such a strong hold over the addict, and why AAVs that directly affect dopamine levels can show so much promise.
The newly developed medication produces anti-bodies against the meth molecules, leaving them in the blood stream but rendering them unable to deliver its dopamine to the brain. This in effect, causes the drug to have no effect. The AAVs prevent the user from getting a sense of feeling from high from meth, thus discouraging its use.
The researchers gave two doses to mice, 50 days apart, showing that mice who received the doses had higher levels of meth in their blood stream then mice in a control group. This indicates the antibodies isolate the meth and keep it in the blood, so that it is not allowed into the brain, and therefore producing no craving.
The promise of AAVs as part of a recovery program
One of the central reasons users in recovery relapse is because a strong urge to use overwhelms his or her urge to quit. While there are other medications that can make it impossible to get high, most of them have to be taken daily.
It may be easy for an addict to get so obsessed with satisfying a craving that they can simply avoid the new medication. The anti-meth AAVs have a much longer affect on the user, producing an army of antibodies that can block the effects of meth to the brain weeks or even months have being taken.
Continued testing is needed to make sure this medication is truly safe and effective over the long term, but it is showing tremendous promise in helping an addict get over the rough few days of early recovery.