Jan. 20, 2005 -- A naturally occurring drug called ibogaine may yield new treatments for alcoholism.
Ibogaine has been shown to reverse addiction to various drugs. Some reports have shown that even after a single dose cravings and withdrawal to cocaine and narcotics-type pain relievers such as morphine can be reduced, say researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).
In lab tests, alcohol-addicted mice drank less alcohol after being injected with ibogaine. Ibogaine also helped the mice stay "on the wagon" after being weaned off alcohol.
That may sound promising, since there are few drugs to help treat alcoholism.drugs to help treat alcoholism. But there's a big catch.
Ibogaine is a hallucinogen, and at high doses it's toxic to certain nerve cells, which can lead to body tremors and difficulty walking, according to studies done on rodents. That's why ibogaine -- which comes from the root bark of an African shrub -- is not approved for human use in the U.S. Still, word has gotten around about ibogaine over the years.
The UCSF team -- which included Dao-Yao He -- tested ibogaine on mice. First, they trained the mice to drink enough alcohol to create an addiction. Next, they gave the mice a weekly injection of ibogaine.
Alcohol Cravings Curbed
After the ibogaine injection, alcohol consumption of the mice dropped sharply. The ibogaine injections also helped the mice resist the temptation to start drinking again after being deprived of alcohol for two weeks.
"Interestingly, human anecdotal reports also suggest a decrease in craving and relapse to addictive drugs after ibogaine intake," say the researchers in the Jan. 19 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience.
The key to ibogaine's influence seems to be its ability to boost levels of a growth factor called glial cell line-deprived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). It is found in reward regions of the brain linked to addiction. Evidence for that came by testing the brains of the mice for signs of ibogaine's impact on GDNF levels.
The researchers aren't suggesting ibogaine for human use. There is too much uncertainty about safe doses and the drug's hallucinogenic and other side effects, they say. However, the findings may lead to the development of other drug approaches to treat alcoholism without the undesirable effects of ibogaine.