Scientists are looking into whether ketamine could be used to treat cocaine addiction.

Ketamine was originally developed as an anaesthetic, mainly used on animals. However, it then began being abused as a party drug as it causes people to hallucinate and feel disassociated from reality.

Official statistics showed that 0.5% of adults in England and Wales used ketamine between 2014 and 2015 – a similar figure to the numbers abusing amphetamines and LSD. However, researchers now believe it could actually prove useful in helping drug addicts overcome their cocaine habits.

Cocaine works by blocking the removal of dopamine from the brain, which produces a feeling of euphoria. Studies have now been looking at whether substances which prevent this blocking process could help tackle cocaine dependency.

Wim van den Brink, Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, told IBTimes UK: “There is a general trend at the moment in psychiatric research known as ‘repurposing’. The idea is to test drugs that are already approved for other types of disorders that may have nothing to do with the conditions for which you are now being tested.

“In this context, we are testing drugs with therapeutic indications unrelated to addiction and ketamine appears to be an interesting candidate.”

More testing needed

Studies involving animals have found ketamine could be an effective treatment but more testing needs to be carried out involving humans.

One research project which has already been completed involved eight cocaine addicts who were given two doses of ketamine and lorazepam. Those running the study found ketamine resulted in less cravings for cocaine than lorazepam.

Ketamine has also been looked at as a possible way of treating alcoholism in a UK study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council. And further research has looked at whether giving heroin addicts intravenous doses of ketamine could reduce their cravings.

However, even if ketamine is developed as a treatment for addiction, it remains a dangerous drug which should not be taken for recreational use. It can raise your heart rate and blood pressure and cause confusion, nausea and bladder problems.

AlphaBiolabs offers drug tests which can detect whether someone has taken a range of substances including ketamine and cocaine. Testing can be a useful way of highlighting when someone needs treatment for their drug use as well as monitoring their progress as they try and overcome their substance misuse issues.