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The drug baclofen, used to prevent spasms in patients with spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders, may be able to help prevent relapses in people treated for cocaine addiction, a new study suggests.

Baclofen can help block the impact of the brain’s response to “unconscious” drug triggers, even before a person begins craving cocaine, according to the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. This mechanism has the potential to prevent a relapse of cocaine addiction, MedicalXpress reports.

The findings will be published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“The study was inspired by patients who had experienced moments of ‘volcanic craving,’ being suddenly overcome by the extreme desire for cocaine, but without a trigger that they could put their finger on,” researcher Anna Rose Childress, PhD said in a news release.

The study included 23 cocaine-dependent men, who had used cocaine on at least eight of 30 days before screening. They stayed for up to 10 days in a supervised inpatient drug treatment facility. Twelve men received baclofen, and 11 received a placebo. They were shown images, including pictures of cocaine, for very brief periods while their brains were scanned. They were also shown pictures of non-drug objects and scenes for longer periods. The subjects were aware of seeing the non-drug pictures, but not the “ultra-brief” pictures of cocaine.

The cocaine pictures were shown so quickly that the brain could not consciously process them, but the scan could still measure the earliest, subconscious effects of the pictures on the brain, the researchers said.

Participants who were treated with baclofen showed a significantly lower response in the reward and motivational circuits of the brain when they were shown the cocaine pictures versus the non-cocaine pictures, compared with participants in the placebo-treated group.


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