The depression drug bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban, Amfebutamone) may help treat addiction to the stimulant methamphetamine, also called “crank,” “meth,” and “speed.”
The finding comes from a small, brief study of meth users. It’s too early to know if bupropion will become the first drug approved for treating meth addiction.
The study by Thomas Newton, MD, and colleagues appears in the advance online edition of Neuropsychopharmacology. Newton is a psychiatry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Millions of Americans are directly or indirectly affected by meth addiction, the researchers write.
They note that while current treatments (which focus more on behavior) work for some people, relapse remains a significant problem.
In a news release, Newton says that “finding new, effective ways to treat methamphetamine addiction is a key component of bringing the ongoing epidemic of abuse under control.”
“Bupropion’s novel effect on the brain is what makes this line of research so promising,” he continues. “These findings may point the way toward medications with even greater potential to be helpful.”
Newton’s study included 26 active meth users, 20 of whom completed the study. They were 18-45 years old.
None was seeking treatment for meth use. They also had no history of other illicit drug addictions, seizures, or other serious health problems.
Participants were given bupropion or a fake pill (placebo) to take twice daily. Ten people from each group completed the study. They didn’t know which pill they’d gotten.
Before taking those pills, they were given small doses of meth in a lab. Then, they rated the drug’s effects.
Participants got another round of meth doses in the lab six days after taking bupropion or the placebo. Afterwards, they repeated their ratings.
Lower High, Reduced Cravings
Participants in the bupropion group reported a smaller “high” after the second round of meth doses. They also didn’t seem to crave meth as much as those in the placebo group.
To track meth cravings, participants rated their reactions to a video of actors simulating meth use. Watching others use drugs has been shown to trigger drug cravings in users.
For comparison, participants also watched a video of nature scenes unrelated to drugs. As expected, the nature videos didn’t prompt meth cravings in any participants.
More Work Ahead
Bupropion, which has a stimulant effect, may reduce meth’s brain effects, the researchers note. They call for more studies, adding that their project wasn’t exactly like real-world meth use.
Users often favor higher doses of meth than those provided in the study, and they usually administer meth themselves, Newton’s team writes. But in this study, all meth doses were administered by the researchers via an IV (intravenous) pump.
The bupropion dose was also low, write Newton and colleagues. They state that they chose the bupropion doses based on safety information about possible seizure risk.
By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
SOURCES: Newton, T. Neuropsychopharmacology, Nov. 23, 2005; advance online edition. News release, University of California, Los Angeles.