Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture Cuts Morphine Addiction Study

Acupuncture suppresses morphine addiction patterns. Researchers have identified an acupuncture point that specifically reduces the behavioral pattern of self-administering morphine. This image depicts an acupuncture point doll for location purposes. The researchers made an additional discovery. The administration of a special pharmaceutical neurotransmitter blocking agent interfered with the effective action of acupuncture. As a result, the researchers determined that a special biochemical brain pathway is necessary to achieve optimal clinical results with acupuncture for the purposes of addiction control. Acupuncture is less effective when drugs are administered that interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate GABA neurotransmitters.

The investigators proved that acupuncture reduces morphine self-administration at both low and high doses. The laboratory experiment was designed to explore the possibility of using acupuncture on human subjects that are dependent on morphine. The research was prompted by prior human clinical trials demonstrating that acupuncture reduces morphine addiction. 

This experiment involved trained animals that were self-administering morphine. The animals receiving acupuncture at acupoint HT7 showed significant reductions in morphine self-administration. Another acupuncture point, LI5, did not achieve the results obtained by the use of HT7. Using several tests, the researchers determined that acupuncture at HT7 reduces morphine cravings and self-administration behavior. The researchers noted that the findings “provide strong evidence that acupuncture at HT7 is a useful treatment for morphine abuse.”

The researchers conducted a second experiment to measure the biochemical pathways by which acupuncture attenuates morphine self-administration. A selective GABA receptor antagonist was intravenously injected into the animals prior to receiving acupuncture. GABA antagonists tend to have stimulant and convulsant properties and are often used to counteract sedative pharmaceutical overdoses. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter produced in the brain. GABA induces relaxation, relieves stress, benefits the production of lean body mass, assists in burning fat, plays a role in pain reduction and helps to stabilize blood pressure. The image contains five 32 gauge acupuncture needles made of stainless steel.

The GABA antagonist injections blocked the clinical efficacy of acupuncture at HT7 for the purposes of attenuating morphine self-administration. The researchers note that this data “suggests that the suppressive effect of acupuncture at HT7 on morphine self-administration was mediated through GABAa and GABAb receptor system.” The researchers added “that acupuncture at HT7 certainly has (a) strong suppressive effect on morphine self-administration behavior through (the) GABA pathway.” The researchers made some important observations. Acupuncture at HT7 did not change food intake behaviour in prior experiments but selectively reduced morphine-taking behaviour in prior experiments and the current experiment.

The researchers conclude that acupuncture “is worth(y) of being considered as a useful therapy for the treat-ment of morphine abuse.” The study, funded by the South Korean Ministry of Education, was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF). The results of the study produced both clinically related data and basic science related data; both the implications of acupuncture for benefitting human patients and the biochemical pathways of acupuncture’s effective actions were investigated. This two pronged approach is gaining popularity regarding acupuncture research. Researchers are testing for both clinical efficacy and the biochemical mechanisms responsible for positive patient outcomes.

Lee, Bong Hyo, Ji Young Ku, Rong Jie Zhao, Hee Young Kim, Chae Ha Yang, Young S. Gwak, Su Chan Chang et al. "Acupuncture at HT7 suppresses morphine self-administration at high dose through GABA system." Neuroscience Letters (2014).