Acupuncture, which has been shown to ease pain, nausea, depression and other ailments in some patients, may also help cocaine addicts quit, researchers said. More than half of the addicts participating in a Yale University study, who were treated with acupuncture needles in their ears five days a week for eight weeks, tested free of cocaine at the end of treatment — more than double the quitting rate of a control group.
A total of 82 participants who were addicted to both cocaine and heroin were divided into three groups. All underwent counselling and received methadone for their heroin addictions.
Among those who had needles inserted in their ears in places thought to treat addiction, 55 percent tested free of cocaine at the close of treatment based on urine screens.
Two control groups included one that had needles inserted in ear points that were not thought to have a treatment effect. Less than one-quarter (24 percent) stopped using cocaine.
In a third group which viewed natured scenes and other relaxing images, only 9 percent stopped using the drug.
Those who completed the effective acupuncture treatment also had longer periods of sustained abstinence than the control groups.
“Our study supports the use of acupuncture for cocaine addiction and shows that alternative therapies can be combined with the arsenal of Western treatments for fighting addiction,” Yale psychiatrist and principal investigator Arthur Margolin said.
“Additional benefits of acupuncture include its low cost, and that it seems to have few, if any, adverse side effects,” he said, noting that this was the first study of its kind and that additional research was needed.
A 1997 report by a panel of the National Institutes of Health concluded that acupuncture does work sometimes, specifically for easing the nausea caused by chemotherapy, for morning sickness, and as an anaesthesia.
The panel also said acupuncture might work either with traditional Western medicine or as an adjunct to it in other areas. These included addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia (general muscle pain), low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma.
A subsequent study showed acupuncture performed on cats produced endorphins — sometimes called the body’s natural opiate system regulating muscle function and pain — that could prove effective in lowering blood pressure and treating heart disease in humans. Research on depressed women found some benefited from the needle therapy.