Cocaine addiction can be frightfully hard to treat since cocaine affects two key neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine and glutamate. So investigators have been looking for ways to interfere with the action of the chemicals in key regions of the brain.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have published new data from a rat study in which they examined the impact of a calcium-channel antagonist called diltiazem, a drug used in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Diltiazem reduced cocaine cravings and the research indicates that calcium channels provide critical links between dopamine and glutamate that drives the intense craving associated with cocaine addiction in a region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens.
This makes sense: we have known for some time that calcium plays an important role in learning, memory and motivation in this part of the brain. In effect cocaine trains the brain using a dysfunctional form of learning that drives the desire to use the drug.
Though it is still early, this is important research that may give us a whole new approach to treatment. It is unlikely that diltiazem itself with be useful in treating humans, since the amount needed to produce the effect in the brain would likely cause a major drop in blood pressure, but any new approach like this should speed up the search for other effective treatments.