More than 50 years ago, a young singer from New York City proclaimed “The times they are a changing.” Having also introduced the world’s biggest pop group to the (then highly illicit) joys of marijuana the following year, little could he have guessed that five decades later, the times would indeed change so much, especially in terms of the treatment of drugs in America.
For instance, few would have guessed that marijuana would eventually be legally regulated for adult use in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, DC. In addition, politicians on both sides of the spectrum have begun to question the validity of the now decades-long “War on Drugs”. As the pendulum slowly swings away from the long-standing practice of incarcerating non-violent drug users opposed to treating them, some are looking for a new approach with more successful results.
The number of people who suffer from addiction to substances is at an all time high and there remains no easy cure to help alleviate their struggles. As a result, many scientists are moving away from more conventional methods of addiction treatment and exploring new methods that can only be described as, well, just plain bizarre. Will any of these methods prove to save more lives? We’ll let you decide. So here for your convenience, we’ve compiled a short list of the strangest up-and-coming advancements in addiction treatment.
#1 Ibogaine & herbal brews
The use of hallucinogenic drugs in the treatment of addiction is not exactly a new phenomenon. Ayahuasca, for instance, is a powerful psychedelic that has become popular as a tool to help drug users overcome addiction. This South American brew, which is derived from a rare Peruvian vine and is most often mixed with other plant based chemicals containing the potent psychedelic DMT, has become so renowned for its life-changing abilities that it has received accolades from people as far reaching as Sting and The Howard Stern Show’s Robin Quivers. It has also become the subject of many ayahuasca enthusiast groups in cities throughout the US. According to the group “Ayahuasca Healings” the brew will help an addict to “care about those in their community so that the mind changes, alcohol and drugs, will vanish, and communities will forever be free of violence.”
Now, there is another mind-altering drug on the rise that many claim can help individuals overcome addiction. Yet this drug not only has the ability to purge addiction-related toxins from the body and provide life-changing epiphanies, but it also has the ability to completely rewire the part of your brain that causes an individual to become addicted in the first place. This drug is called ibogaine.
Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic chemical found in the African tabernanthe iboga root. At high doses, the drug will send its user user into an intense psychedelic trance that involves 3-4 hours of dreamlike hallucinations and 8-20 hours of intense introspection about the events of one’s life and its significance. Traditionally, ibogaine has been been used in initiation rituals and religious ceremonies. During the 1960’s however, Europe and the US gained an interest in ibogaine’s anti-addiction potentials. This is because in addition to inducing soul-searching hallucinations, ibogaine also helps reset and refresh the opiate receptor sites in your brain. Apparently, a successful “trip” will result in a brain free of any opiate cravings.
According to information gathered by the Global Iboagaine Therapy Alliance, ibogaine-assisted detox programs seems to lead participants towards total abstinence more than conventional treatment programs, considering that a ibogaine treatment program lasts a similar length to a conventional one. 75 people who participated in a Brazilian ibogaine study had a 61 percent success rate of quitting either alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and/or crack. Although similar ibogaine treatment studies in Mexico and New Zealand for subjects suffering from opiate addiction only boasted a 20 percent and 50 percent abstinence rate respectively, the anti-addiction potential of ibogaine is a continuing topic of research and interest. Be warned though, ibogaine is not only a Schedule 1 drug in the US, but it is also not without its risks, having caused the death of individuals with certain preexisting health conditions.
#2 Neurofeedback Therapy
Similar to the way that ibogaine rewires your brain, neurofeedback treatment also uses similar means to help addiction sufferers on their path to recovery. The way this treatment method works though is by literally attaching wires to your brain (or to your head, at least).
Neurofeedback is a method in which individuals are presented with a visualization of their computerized brain data. By visualizing this data, individuals are then able to neutralize possibly harmful brain activity that may be symptomatic of their particular condition. This is done by playing “video games” with your own brainwaves. In other words, participants see their brain waves moving in undesirable areas of the brain and change their brain activity to return the image to healthier, more positive areas.
Currently, neurofeedback is being used as a way to help veterans returning from the battlefield overcome the symptoms of PTSD. However, it has been found that the majority of addiction sufferers share the same symptoms as people with PTSD, including irritability, insomnia, aggression, physical pain, dependency, and loss of interest, among others.
According to the clinical director at the Bell Shelter, a housing center for the homeless which also boasts an onsite drug and alcohol treatment center, neurofeedback has been very successful for treating addiction. Neurofeedback treatment is primarily used to help Bell Shelter residents who suffer from PTSD. However, Bell Shelter clinical director Paul Wager says that the relapse rate following treatment programs featuring neurofeedback are 25 to 28 percent, compared with the regular 78 percent relapse rate.
#3 Virtual Reality Treatment
Letting drug users visualize their addictive impulses has proven successful for participants in neurofeedback treatment. Virtual reality treatment, on the other hand, helps people visualize the very scenarios in which they feed their addictions everyday. By saying “No” to drugs in these simulated situations, users learn ways in which they can say “No” to drugs in real life.
Virtual reality treatment sessions, such as the ones conducted by Dr. Doug Hyun Han of Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul, involves having participants sit in front of 3-D television screens. Another study at the University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work however, involves wearing virtual reality headsets. Once participants are hooked up to a virtual environment, they are walked through situations that resemble those in which their addictions are strongest.
This can include anywhere from a party to a gas station and the sights, smells, and interactions of each environment are replicated as accurately as possible. Researchers even go as far as to integrate burning marijuana incense or the smell of pizza in a restaurant to totally immerse participants. Once immersed in these life-like experiences, participants learn to refuse drugs or alcohol in the hopes that they can mentally condition themselves to refuse them in real life.
The results of Dr. Hyun Han’s five-week therapy session showed the metabolic activity decreasing in the brains of alcohol-dependent participants, resulting in reduced cravings. Despite its effect on brain metabolism, however, it is still uncertain how well virtual reality treatment may work as an actual treatment method for addiction. In addition, to help treat heroin addiction sufferers, a lot of hands-on research must be done to faithfully recreate the environments in which heroin is ingested. According to the Graduate of Social Work’s lab director Patrick Bordnick, this includes sending field workers onsite to places where heroin dependent individuals shoot up.
#4 Drug Vaccines
Measles, Mumps and… Addiction? The idea of giving somebody a vaccine to cure them of their addictive impulses seems like the kind of utopian dream you would read about in a science fiction novel. In actuality though, vaccines to help alleviate drug addiction have already been in development for some time. Not only that, but some drug vaccine studies have boasted very promising results.
Basically, what an addiction vaccine does is block a particular drug from getting into your brain by inducing a specific immune response. A heroin vaccine developed two years ago by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) worked by targeting the psychoactive breakdown products of heroin in the bloodstream. During this particular study, the vaccine stopped heroin-addicted rats from resuming the use of the substance. Although the mechanics of a heroin vaccine is similar to the already prevalent Suboxone, TSRI hopes that the success of an opioid vaccine will work successfully during human trials so as to become a regular part of treatment for heroin addiction.
Studies testing the effectiveness of vaccines for other drugs have been going on since the 1990’s. Among the drugs that were tested, a nicotine vaccine was tested on subjects alongside placebos with underwhelming results. However, Selecta Biosciences is currently working to develop a new and improved nicotine vaccine. Besides cocaine and nicotine though, researchers are also gearing up to begin testing a vaccine for methamphetamine addiction.
#5 LSD/Magic Mushrooms
Studying LSD for scientific purposes has been an especially tricky process in the United States. This is mainly due to the fact that LSD was deemed a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Among other things, this Schedule 1 classification describes LSD as a substance having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Therefore, many decades went by where most scientists just didn’t bother spending the exorbitant amount of time and effort it takes to request the regulation of a Schedule 1 drug for research purposes.
This Schedule 1 classification, however, flies in the face of enormous evidence suggesting that LSD may actually provide plenty of benefits for people who suffer from conditions like PTSD, depression, cluster headaches, and yes… drug addiction.
Between 1966 and 1970, for instance, Pl-rjan Johansen and Teri Krebs of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a study where a group of 536 alcoholics were giving a small tab of LSD before a therapeutic treatment session. The results of their study showed that 59 percent of participants who took the LSD decreased their alcohol consumption. In addition, those who took LSD were 15 percent more likely to be sober six months after leaving treatment.
While LSD and other psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms remain Schedule 1 drugs, more researchers have begun seeking approval to study psychedelics and discover their largely untapped potential. Just last year, John Hopkins researchers studied the effects of psilocybin on smoking cessation. The results of this study revealed an 80 percent abstinence rate among participants after six months. Although this is only a preliminary step towards more well-designed and rigorous studies, John Hopkins psychiatrist Matthew Johnson believes that the success of this study will put “muscle” behind future studies on the positive effects that this often stigmatized drug may have on addiction sufferers.