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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Acupuncture Helps Cocaine Addicts?

Here in the Philippines, there is currently a huge focus on the government’s so-called “war on drugs”.  One aspect where acupuncture can help is rehabilitation.  Here is a study that gives us hope.

Acupuncture helps Cocaine Addicts?

The name of the study we are presenting in this blog entry is: Acupuncture reduces relapse to cocaine-seeking behavior via activation of GABA neurons in the ventral tegmental area by Jin et al.  (link) It’s stated goals are the following:

There is growing public interest in alternative approaches to addiction treatment and scientific interest in elucidating the neurobiological underpinnings of acupuncture. Our previous studies showed that acupuncture at a specific Shenmen (HT7) points reduced dopamine (DA) release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) induced by drugs of abuse. The present study was carried out to evaluate the effects of HT7 acupuncture on γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neuronal activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior.

So essentially, stimulating the point mentioned above interrupts the way through which drugs alter the brain.  Shenmen, by the way, can be translated as “door to the mind”.

acupuncture point shenmen

HT-7 Shenmen; photo courtesy

How did the scientists try to measure this?

Using microdialysis and in vivo single-unit electrophysiology, we evaluated the effects of HT7 acupuncture on VTA GABA and NAc DA release and VTA GABA neuronal activity in rats.

So basically what they did was try to see if the GABA and DA release were affected by stimulation of this point.  This was what they saw:

HT7 stimulation significantly decreased acute cocaine-induced DA release in the NAc, which was also blocked by 2-hydroxysaclofen. HT7 acupuncture also attenuated cocaine-induced sensitization of extracellular DA levels in the NAc. Moreover, HT7 acupuncture reduced both locomotor activity and neuronal activation in the NAc induced by acute cocaine in a needle-penetration depth-dependent fashion.

In English, what this means is that yes, the cocaine had less effect on the release of dopamine.

This is not the same as testing it out on people, but the study does indeed show several things.  Most importantly for me, it shows that TRUE acupuncture DOES have an effect on the physiology of the brain.  Many skeptics say that acupuncture is merely placebo.  However placebo is defined as an agent that has no biological effect.  Since there is a measurable biological effect in this case as with others (see then we have to conclude that acupuncture is more than just placebo.

Secondly, this shows that the ancients knew what they were doing.  It is thus proven that a point named “door to the mind” was aptly named because of tangible effects on the patient’s psyche.

And lastly, we can help reduce addiction through direct manipulation of the neurophysiologic mechanisms of addiction, but without the need to resort to oral or IV administered agents.


Acupuncture reduces relapse to cocaine-seeking behavior via activation of GABA neurons in the ventral tegmental area. Jin W, Kim MS, Jang EY, Lee JY, Lee JG, Kim HY, Yoon SS, Lee BH, Chang S, Kim JH, Choi KH, Koo H, Gwak YS, Steffensen SC, Ryu YH, Kim HY, Yang CH. Addict Biol. 2017 Mar 7. doi: 10.1111/adb.12499.

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