A new study published Tuesday in Nature Communications has found that ketamine can disrupt memories to help heavy drinkers cut back on alcohol for at least nine months.
Researchers used anesthetic ketamine to try to disrupt the neurological associations that often draw people back into addiction when they are trying to quit.
Ketamine is a popular recreational drug that has been used in anesthesia. Earlier this year, the FDA approved ketamine for the treatment of severe depression.
The researchers wanted to study ketamine’s potential to treat other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction.
Although the exact mechanism of ketamine is unknown, scientists have found that it has the ability to block N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, a protein found in neurons. By blocking NMDA, ketamine keeps the brain from re-stabilizing memory, which is a key to reduce addiction.
Study author Ravi Das from University College London recruited 90 heavy and harmful drinkers who wanted to cut down the addiction. They were given a single dose of intravenous ketamine during the study period.
After the experiment, the researchers found that those who were given ketamine reported a significant decrease in their desire to drink a beer that was placed in front of them. The participants also reported having less liking to beer and less urge to drink more alcohol after the first drink.
By nearly nine 9 months, the participants who were given ketamine reduced their beer consumption by half.
Neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mary Torregrossa said, “To actually get changes in [participants’] behavior when they go home and they’re not in the lab is a big deal. But without any brain imaging data, we don’t know exactly what happened to the memory.”
She noted, “A single encounter with a glass of beer and a few photos clearly didn’t totally upend the participants’ understanding of what a beer is or what it’s like to drink one. But it could have subtly changed subconscious processes that drive the emotional reaction to alcohol.” “Ketamine may well affect the brain in other ways that can influence alcohol consumption,” she added. “But because it’s an approved drug with a good safety record, it’s a pretty obvious direction to go in developing treatment.”