Your immune system protects you from things like bacteria and viruses, but what if it could also protect you from dangerous drugs like meth? The immune system is complicated and imperfect, but researchers are working on ways to use it to help addicts kick a meth habit. A vaccine for cocaine has already been developed and is soon to be tested in human trials. It trains the immune system to recognize the cocaine molecule as an invader to be destroyed. Similar research into immune system-focused treatments for meth addiction are looking promising and may soon be able to help people stop using this dangerous and highly addictive drug.
Using medications to treat addiction is not a new concept. Heroin addicts have been given methadone as a replacement drug for decades. Alcoholics can take Antabuse, which makes them feel terribly sick if they drink any alcohol. Other more recent medications reduce symptoms of withdrawal or block the high that users get from a drug. None of these are perfect, nor do they represent a cure for addiction.
The newest medications that help addicts quit by blocking a drug’s effect in the body are promising but problematic. For many of them, the addict has to take the medication regularly in order for it to work. If they want to relapse, the simply stop taking it. Longer-acting injectable medicines are a partial solution, but the treatment in development for meth addiction may be even better. It could provide a long-term block.
Your immune system works by producing antibodies that react to foreign substances. It can be induced to create antibodies that are specific to an invader, such as we already do with vaccines against the flu and other illnesses. Researchers are working on a treatment that would cause a meth addict’s immune system to produce a steady supply of anti-meth antibodies. These would attack any meth in the body so that the user could not get high from it. If there is no high, there is no reason to keep using the drug.
What makes this new treatment so special is that it would not need to be taken daily or even monthly. The treatment involves using a deactivated virus to insert genes into a meth addict’s cells. The new genes would instruct the cells to make a continuous supply of the anti-meth antibodies. It could be a long-term solution to a difficult problem. The treatment has been used successfully in meth-addicted lab mice. The animals were able to produce the antibodies for over 50 days after the initiation of the vaccine.
Researchers working on the meth treatment believe that it has great promise for working in humans. They believe that the vaccine could be produced affordably and its effects could last for months at a time. It is important that access to this treatment be open to meth addicts who have no health insurance and who can’t afford expensive treatments.
Meth is a commonly abused drug and one of the most dangerous and most addictive of all illegal substances. The side effects are damaging and long-lasting, and many addicts die before being able to get clean. Unlike several other drugs, such as heroin and alcohol, medications for meth addiction treatment have been non-existent. If this new vaccine can be tested in humans and proves safe and effective, it would open up a door to a whole new world for thousands of people.