'Special K' party drug to be trialled as
treatment for alcoholics
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[July 07, 2016]
By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists are
recruiting volunteers to test whether ketamine, also known as the party
drug "Special K", may be helpful in reducing relapse rates among people
with severe alcoholism.
After pilot studies that showed ketamine combined with psychotherapy
might make detoxing alcoholics less likely to relapse, the
scientists are looking for 96 volunteers with severe alcohol
disorder who have been "recently abstinent".
Ketamine is a licensed medical drug, widely used as an anaesthetic
and to relieve pain. But it is also used as a recreational drug and
can lead some people into drug abuse.
"Ketamine is a well-tolerated drug and can help alleviate the
symptoms of depression, with a pilot study suggesting that it could
cut alcohol relapse rates by more than half," Celia Morgan, who will
lead the research at Exeter University, said.
"This trial will allow us to examine whether ketamine, combined with
therapy, can indeed help people stay abstinent from alcohol."
Half the participants will get a low-dose ketamine injection once a
week for three weeks, and will also get seven 90-minute sessions of
psychotherapy. A control group will get the same course of therapy,
but with injections of saline solution.
Morgan's team will compare the results after six months using data
collected via a device fitted to each participant's ankle that
monitors alcohol intake by testing sweat.
Research in mice has shown ketamine could prompt changes in the
brain that make it easier for a person to make new connections and
learn new things in the short-term. The researchers hope this could
make the psychotherapy sessions more effective for alcoholics.
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A pilot study found that three doses of ketamine plus psychotherapy
reduced average 12-month relapse rates to 34 percent from 76
percent. Scientists think ketamine's antidepressant properties may
According to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, some 3.3
million people die each year from harmful use of alcohol, and
alcohol abuse contributes to more than 200 diseases and conditions
caused by injury.
"Alcoholism can have a terrible impact," said Kathryn Adcock, head
of neurosciences and mental health at the Medical Research Council,
which is jointly funding the study. "But current treatments ... are
associated with high relapse rates – with people often return to
drinking after only a short time."
(Editing by Louise Ireland)
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