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Exercise Could Help Rehabilitate Meth Addicts

Exercise coupled with controlled methamphetamine use prior to withdrawal could be a powerful new tool to treat “meth” addiction, according to research published in the FASEB Journal.

Dr Oliver Rawashdeh of The University of Queensland said it could be possible to use methamphetamine itself to treat addiction by conditioning drug usage with a non-harmful stimulus – in this case exercise.

“Methamphetamine users have highly disrupted circadian rhythms, particularly the body’s 24-hour sleep/wake pattern,” Rawashdeh said. “Without stable and synchronised sleep rhythms, users suffer from disturbances in mood and depression, a key reason we believe they become addicted and relapse after treatment.”

Co-author Prof Margarita Dubocovich of The University of Buffalo said meth users lived in a state akin to constant jet-lag. “This increases their craving for the drug,” she said. “Research shows that the success of rehabilitation and prevention of relapse is linked to the degree to which an addict’s body clock is disturbed.”

Rawashdeh said that by pairing the stimulus causing the addiction with another stimulus, in this case physical activity, a new biological clock was activated and the body’s sleep/wake cycles were re-established. “Exercise targets the same reward centre in the brain as the drug, so we paired the two together,” he said. “By doing this the brain is able to transfer the euphoric characteristics associated with the drug to a healthy stimulus – exercise – according to the principles of classical conditioning. It took just 2 weeks to regenerate a stable sleep/wake rhythm in animal models, and the pattern continued when the drug was stopped.”

Rawashdeh said the treatment appeared to activate a new brain clock that rescued and restored circadian rhythms. “Our results show it is possible to reinstate a rhythm, and if this can eventually be replicated in people it may accelerate the effectiveness of drug rehabilitation programs and reduce the likelihood of relapse.”