This week local newspapers and on-line news services greeted us with the announcement... Perth researchers will lead a world-first trial of a pill that could become a cheap and simple take-home treatment for methamphetamine addicts.
As a result of this “news”, we have received a number of enquiries from clients and their family members. Despite the sensational media headlines, we know that NAC or n-acetyl cysteine is not a wonder drug or “magic cure” for Meth addiction. Here are some facts people should be told, but that would not make a great news story.
- N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is not new and has been studied overseas and in Australia for the past 10 to 12 years.
- NAC comes from an amino acid; it is a building block of glutathione, considered to be the most important antioxidant in the body. It’s not a newly discovered drug or medication.
- For those who like the science, the theory behind NAC is as follows:
- Addiction of any form is linked to a malfunction of the brain’s glutamate functioning.
- NAC is a powerful antioxidant which, when taken, is absorbed in the intestines. It then passes through the blood to the brain where it is converted to cysteine, an amino acid that contributes to glutamate production, which helps to stabilize the glutamate functioning in the brain.
- There have already been numerous studies relating to the impact of NAC on cravings and compulsions.
- One study of the effect of NAC on smokers found those taking NAC found they smoked fewer cigarettes compared to smokers not taking NAC (University of South Carolina).
- A study of 24 marijuana-dependent users who wanted to cut back, took NAC daily. The drug users reduced their frequency and quantity of marijuana use. They also reported a decline in compulsive feelings regarding their marijuana use (University of South Carolina).
- A study of 23 cocaine-dependent users taking NAC for four weeks found that 70 percent discontinued or significantly reduced their cocaine use (American Journal on Addictions).
- A study of 27 participants with a pathological addiction to gambling were treated with NAC to examine the effectiveness on this behavioral addiction. A significant reduction of gambling behavior was observed in 16 participants (University of Minnesota School of Medicine).
- A study of 50 individuals with compulsive hair-pulling, a condition known as “trichotillomania”, resulted in 56% of the subjects reporting they were ‘much or very much improved’ after taking NAC, compared with 16% of subjects taking placebo (University of Minnesota School of Medicine).
- Researchers have drawn some general conclusions from the studies undertaken to date:
- Nutrition’s role is not confined to the physical body, but extends into the brain and mind.
- A body of research now shows promise in the use of the supplement NAC for smoking, marijuana dependence, cocaine dependence, pathological gambling and hair pulling.
- There is a potential role for NAC in the treatment of other addiction areas.
- NAC may be better suited for avoiding relapse in already abstinent people, than as a primary treatment.
Be aware. At best, the research indicates NAC may be a helpful supplement for those with an addiction, rather than a wonder drug that will “cure” people of their addictive behaviours. An internet search indicates NAC supplements are available on-line. We strongly recommend you discuss their use with your GP, but stay in your treatment program.