Could gambling addiction be treated with a nasal spray? A group of Finnish researchers are launching a study to find out.
The fast-working spray contains naloxone, which is commonly used as an emergency treatment for overdoses of opiates such as heroin, opium and morphine. It blocks the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure with a central role in addictions.
“The spray goes to the brain in a few minutes so it’s very useful for a gambler … if you crave gambling, just take the spray,” Hannu Alho, professor of addiction medicine at the Helsinki-based national institute for health and welfare, explained.
The researchers are looking for up to 130 volunteers to take part in the experiment, which Alho says is “the first of its kind globally to use nasal spray.” Half will use the treatment for three months, while the other half will be given a placebo.
A recent report found that 2.7% of Finns aged 15-74 suffered from some level of gambling problem, while a report last year by the UK’s Gambling Commissionfound that two million Britons were either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction.
Alho said a previous attempt to treat gambling addiction with a pill containing a substance similar to naloxone had shown benefits, but was inefficient as the pill takes at least one hour before it is absorbed.
In 2015 the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of naloxone kitswhich make it easy to deliver the formulation to people who have overdosed on opiates via a spray. The FDA research found that administering naloxone nasally delivered the same levels or higher of the drug as an intramuscular injection, and acted just as fast.
“Gambling is a very impulsive behaviour … the need to gamble starts right away,” Alho said. “For this reason we are seeking a medication with a quick effect … the nasal spray acts in just a few minutes.”
The experiment is to be launched next week and is expected to last for a year.
Naloxone blocks opioid receptors, perhaps a dopamine blocker would be more effective–but also risk depression and some other serious side effects such as suicidality–we all need a certain dopamine balance, it’s a novel approach and worth paying attention to!