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New Study Is Investigating Whether Ketamine Can Be Used to Treat Gambling Addiction
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Ketamine is already approved as a treatment for depression, but it could also become the first drug to ever receive approval for treating gambling disorders.
Published on August 26, 2021

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A Canadian biotech company is preparing to kick off the world's first clinical trial investigating ketamine as a treatment for gambling addiction

In this unique study, researchers affiliated with Awakn Life Sciences Corp. will explore whether ketamine can reduce the urge to gamble and the “superstitious thinking” that often accompanies this addiction. The trial, which will be conducted in the UK, also aims to discover whether ketamine-assisted therapy can modify reward memories that can trigger the desire to gamble.

"This study is an exciting first step toward a new treatment for gambling disorder, and one which will give new insights into the neurobiology of this damaging and often overlooked addiction, we are delighted that Awakn is able to take the lead in developing solutions to address this growing unmet treatment need,” said the study's lead researcher, Celia Morgan, PhD, Professor of Psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, UK, in a statement.

Gambling addiction is a serious issue that affects an estimated 10 million Americans and 1.4 million Brits. Researchers believe that between 2.5 to 2.7 percent of people are currently struggling with an addiction to gambling, and these rates have recently been rising. At present, there is no licensed pharmacological treatment for this disorder, highlighting the need for a new, effective treatment that can be combined with traditional therapy.

The idea of using a popular club drug to treat addiction might seem to be completely off the wall at first, but prior research suggests that this trial could be a breakthrough success. Last year, a case study reported that two weeks of regular ketamine infusions helped a man with a 20-year history of problem gambling finally break his addiction. The subject, who had lost 80 percent of his income to gambling, was able to abstain from visiting the casino for at least 6 months after receiving four intravenous doses of the drug. 

Researchers believe that ketamine and other psychedelics can increase neuroplasticity and connectivity, helping people become more open to making serious changes in their lives. Recent studies have found that psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, and even CBD can help break lifelong addictions to tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs. Awakn is also conducting two separate Phase II studies to determine if ketamine and MDMA can help treat alcohol use disorder.

Ketamine has traditionally been used by veterinarians as an anesthetic for cats, horses, and other animals, but enterprising psychonauts discovered that this dissociative drug works wonders on humans as well. In the late 1980s, ketamine made its way into club culture, where it is often sold as “Special K.” But like MDMA and other popular club drugs, researchers are learning that ketamine has powerful benefits for mental health.

Several studies have now demonstrated that ketamine can treat depression, anxiety, or other serious conditions, and US health officials have even legalized a ketamine nasal spray for people suffering from treatment-resistant depression. Legal ketamine clinics are now springing up across the US, Canada, and the UK, and if Awakn's new trials are a success, these clinics may soon begin opening their doors to people with gambling disorders or other addictions.

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Chris Moore
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Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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