Chinese Prescription Drug Could Treat Cocaine Addiction

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers from Maryland have been given a 3.7 million dollar grant to develop a medication that could treat cocaine addiction. The medication is derived from active compounds in some Chinese prescription drugs.

If the drug works it would be the first approved medication to curb cocaine addiction in the United States, and possibly in the world.

The five year study, led by Jia Bei Wang, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the School of Pharmacy, follows research in mice showing a compound called l-tetrahydropalmatine (l-THP), found in some Chinese medicines, decreases cravings for cocaine and suppresses the “reward pathway” in the brain responsible for the addictive nature of the drug.

According to Wang, “The compound alters the activity of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that are instrumental in the human body’s response to addictive drugs.”

I-THP First Treatment for Cocaine Addiction in US


Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FAAPS, dean of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy explains, “Cocaine addiction is a major health concern in both urban and suburban communities and l-THP may be the first effective medication for the treatment of cocaine abuse and addiction approved in this country.” Effective treatment has challenged researchers.

Dr. Wang has studied I-THP extensively, providing the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) with samples six month ago. Her research team will work on developing the treatment, in addition to conducting Phase I human trials that could begin next year.

"NIDA's Avant-Garde award series is designed to stimulate high-impact research that may lead to groundbreaking strategies for solving long-standing research challenges. One of those elusive solutions has been a medication for cocaine addiction, which is addressed by Dr. Wang's proposal," said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow.

Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FAAPS, dean of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy describes the drug development as “critical and timely. The drug could augment cognitive therapies used to treat addiction. Phase 1 trials could start mid-2011.

The drug has been a focus of Dr. Wang who says, “Chinese medicine is a big treasure box, which I always had in mind as a possible resource to treat drug addiction.” If 1-THP works, it will be the first drug developed to treat cocaine abuse and addiction. According to background information from the study, in 2007 there were an estimated 610,000 users, with the highest incidence among adults age 18 to 25.

University of Maryland and Baltimore