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Acupuncture Cuts Cocaine Addiction


WebMD Health News

Aug. 14, 2000 -- An ancient Chinese practice may help with a modern day affliction.

Researchers have shown that acupuncture can help some patients fight cocaine addiction, according to an article published in the Aug. 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Partly because there are few effective conventional treatments for cocaine dependence, treatment centers have turned to alternative therapies, including acupuncture. But there is little hard, scientific evidence to show whether these types of therapies are effective.

"Acupuncture is being used in hundreds of treatment facilities around the country without a clear database underpinning its efficacy or telling us the best way to use it. This is the first clear clinical trial, and it is suggesting that acupuncture may be a viable treatment and we should pursue it further," Alan I. Leshner, PhD, tells WebMD. Leshner, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which funded the study, was not involved in the study. "It is not the most dramatically definitive study, but it is certainly a strong study, and it does say that acupuncture may well have some merit."

Researchers, led by S. Kelly Avants, PhD, from the division of substance abuse in the department of psychiatry at Yale University, divided 82 cocaine addicts -- who were also receiving methadone treatment for heroin addiction -- into three groups. One-third received acupuncture at four specific points around the outer ear, another third received "sham" acupuncture at sites on the ear that would be ineffective, and the last third received relaxation therapy consisting of viewing a relaxing video. Treatment sessions were five times a week for eight weeks. The subjects' urine was tested three times a week for traces of cocaine.

"We found that patients ... assigned to receive true acupuncture had less cocaine use compared to the two [other] groups," principal investigator Arthur Margolin, PhD, tells WebMD. "And there was a higher percentage of patients in the acupuncture group who were clean from cocaine use in the last week of the study compared to the two [other] groups as well."

In fact, patients who received real acupuncture were three and a half times more likely than those who received relaxation therapy, and two and a half times more likely than those who received sham acupuncture, to test negative for cocaine. Over half of those receiving acupuncture had three consecutive cocaine-free urine samples in the final week of the study, compared to 24% of those getting sham acupuncture and 9% of those getting only relaxation therapy.

Margolin explains that they don't understand exactly how the acupuncture works or what physical changes occur. There are some ideas that inserting needles into the ear releases substances in the body that cause a pleasant sensation. Another theory is that it stimulates relaxation.

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