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Research: exercise could help rehabilitate meth addicts

(Xinhua)    15:40, November 03, 2016

SYDNEY, Nov. 3  -- Australian researchers have found that exercise along with controlled intake of methamphetamine prior to a withdrawal could be the new powerful tool to treat a meth addiction.

University of Queensland School of Biomedical Sciences Faculty of Medicine lead researcher Dr. Oliver Rawashdeh who made the discovery said the findings were derived during a pre-clinical study done alongside with American researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York.

Rawashdeh said the initial experiments showed that it could be possible to use methamphetamine itself to treat addiction by conditioning drug usage with a non-harmful stimulus such as exercise.

"Methamphetamine users have highly disrupted circadian rhythms, particularly the body's 24-hour sleep or wake pattern," Rawashdeh said in statement on Thursday.

"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," he said.

Professor Margarita Dubocovich with the University of Buffalo, who worked on the research with Rawashdeh, said meth users lived in a state akin to constant jet-lag.

"This increases their craving for the drug," Dubocovich 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," she said.

Rawashdeh said that by pairing the stimulus causing the addiction to another, in this case physical activity, a new biological clock was activated and the body's sleep and 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 which exercise and according to the principles of classical conditioning."

"It took just two weeks to regenerate a stable sleep and wake rhythm in animal models, and the pattern continued when the drug was stopped," Rawashdeh concluded.

Going forward, he said he will be working on translating the findings into a clinical treatment from Queensland itself and is looking to work with other interested collaborators.

He said at present the treatment appeared to activate a new brain clock that rescued and restored circadian rhythms, a 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings.

"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," he added.

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