04/04/2013 05:03 pm ET

Cocaine Addiction Cure: Study Suggests Laser Light Could Cure Compulsive Behavior

The National Institute of Health and the University of California, San Francisco released a paper Wednesday revealing that researchers may have discovered a cure for cocaine addiction.

In a recent study, researchers found that activating certain parts of the brain with a laser light could turn off the drug-seeking compulsion in cocaine-addicted rats.

"When we turn on a laser light in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex, the compulsive cocaine seeking is gone," said Antonello Bonci, Scientific Director at NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse, in a press release.

The prefrontal cortex plays an integral part of cognitive behavior, decision-making and impulse control, and has long been linked to addiction.

A press release explained the implications of the study:

One of the hallmarks of cocaine addiction is compulsive drug taking -- the loss of ability to refrain from taking the drug even if it's destroying one's life.

What makes this new work so promising, said Bonci, is that [principal researcher Billy] Chen and his colleagues were working with an animal model that mimics this sort of compulsive cocaine addictions. The animals, like human addicts, are more likely to make bad decisions and take cocaine even when they are conditioned to expect self-harm associated with it.

Not only were researchers able to "turn off" the cocaine-seeking compulsion in addicted rats, they were also able to "turn on" the trait in non-addicted rats.

Bonci explained that lasers would not likely be used in humans, but rather electromagnetic stimulation, which is already used as an effective treatment for depression.

Researchers intend to begin clinical trials with humans at NIH using this technique soon.


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