This study should make some folks stand up and take notice.
The first question, of course, is where did these scientists find addicted rats? They created them, of course. Being an animal researcher is nasty business and condemned widely by animals lovers and advocates, but it happens every day in the interest of improving and extending the lives of humans.
In this case, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute were seeking to explore the effect of cannabidiol, the increasingly popular non-psychotropic compound from cannabis, on addiction. In this case, their test subjects were rats who they had helped to develop alcohol and cocaine addictions.
Over time, the rats exhibited addictive-like behaviors by self-administering the drugs made readily available to them. Stress was measured with elevated maze exercises. They saw CBD affect the rats “without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behavior.” In other words, the animals improved without inhibiting their daily lives and had long-lasting effects.
The scientists did not mince words. They reported that CBD reduced relapse that would have normally been provoked by stress or temptation of the available drugs. It also seemed to reduce impulsive behavior. This is key because impulsivity can wreck a human in drug recovery. Any ability to modulate this response in humans could be groundbreaking and life-changing for untold numbers of people.
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What this research did not address was the element of connection, which has become increasingly recognized as an important element in addictive behavior. This first gained wide attention in the research community through the now famous “Rat Park” studies. In those experiments, isolated rats provided with a regular water bottle and a liquid morphine solution. The isolated animals chose morphine up to 19 times more often than those placed with other rats with options for socialization and other stimuli. Those who had been fed a morphine laced solution for nearly two months chose water only when moved to the rat park, voluntarily undergoing withdrawal symptoms.
Author/journalist Johann Hari talks about this in great detail in his Ted Talk which challenges some commonly held opinions in the addiction/recovery community. These discoveries affect the way that many treatment centers for humans operate today, with more focus on a mind, body, spirit health than solely focusing on abstinence.
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We cannot be tempted to believe that addiction is easily solved. The current opioid crisis in America makes that painfully evident. Human addiction to drugs is a complex issue that will not be solved with one rat study. This additional insight adds to the tapestry of understanding that researchers and physicians can use to gain a better understanding and, hopefully, to treat people with a higher level of success. This is not just an intellectual exercise, lives are at stake.