African Root Studied As Addiction Treatment

Copyright 1993 Reuters, Limited

November 16, 1993, Tuesday, BC cycle

LENGTH: 380 words

COLUMN: Health briefs

LOAD-DATE: November 18, 1993


BYLINE: By Jane Sutton


BODY: An ancient and illegal hallucinogenic herb that was popular during the 1960s is under study as a potential treatment for heroin and cocaine addiction, government-backed researchers said Tuesday.

Reporting to the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists in Orlando, University of Kentucky researchers said they had developed stable oral and injectable forms of the drug ibogaine HCL.

Scientists established long ago that ibogaine, which occurs naturally in the root bark of an African shrub, can reduce the craving for cocaine and heroin, said the university’s Dr Ram Murty in a telephone interview.

But because the extract had a tendency to oxidize and break down, it could not be tested for potential use in treating drug addiction.

Murty said he and his colleagues have found a way to stabilize the drug, by adding the chemical disodium EDTA. That enabled them to produce tablets, capsules and injectible liquid ibogaine which retain their potency.

“We have known that this drug was useful since the 1960s. We are at the point where we can institute animal studies,” Murty said.

Animal studies would be the first step toward human clinical trials that could someday lead to approval by the Food and Drug Administration for ibogaine’s use as an anti-addiction therapy, Murty said.

However, Murty said any FDA approval is at least six years away, even if all the tests go well. “This natural extract was used by African villagers. It’s an old herb. But it’s a completely new drug as far as the FDA is concerned,” Murty said.

Ibogaine was sometimes used in religious ceremonies in Africa, Murty said. It first appeared in the United States in the 1960s as an illegal hallucinogenic and remains a controlled substance, classified for research use only.

Scientists are not certain how it works to suppress drug craving. They believe it acts on the biological receptors in the brain, filling them so that the receptors act as though heroin or cocaine is already present.

“The drug enters the biological receptor. It occupies it so people don’t have a craving,” Murty said.

He and his colleagues are in the second year of a four-year, $ 2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study several compounds that may counter drug addiction.

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