Heroin is a drug with an extremely high dependency potential that stimulates severe cravings in the drug addicts. Researchers at University of Basel in Switzerland have found that the stress hormone cortisol can reduce heroine craving in drug addicts.
For the study, 29 heroine addicts were given a cortisol tablet or placebo before receiving a dose of heroin. Administering cortisol to the addicts resulted in a decrease in cravings by an average of 25% when compared to placebo. This decrease was seen in people who were dependent on a relatively low dose of heroin but not in highly-dependent patients.
Marc Walter, chief physician at the Psychiatric University Clinics (UPK) in Basel and one of the author of the study, said, "We wanted to examine whether cortisol can help patients reduce their heroin dosage or remain abstinent from heroin for longer."
In past studies, the researchers in Basel had discovered that cortisol diminishes the ability to retrieve memories. The intake of cortisol reduced the brain's ability to remember. Thus, cortisol can be used, for example, to relieve symptoms in patients suffering from anxiety disorders by inhibiting the patients' ability to recall anxious episodes.
The researchers then hypothesized that cortisol also has an inhibitory effect on addiction-related memory and thus on the craving for the addictive substance. Whether the inhibitory effect of cortisol on the craving for heroin will also affect addiction-related behaviors of patients in their day-to-day lives still remains unclear.
The study appeared in the Translational Psychiatry.