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Ketamine For Alcohol Addiction: How Awakn Is Sobering People Up

Ketamine to treat alcohol addiction
Written by Sarah Friedman

Depression is a large and growing problem in the world, and so is addiction. While ketamine therapy is mainly geared toward helping people get over their depression issues (along with pain issues); it’s also looked into as a tool to help people get off drugs. Here’s the latest on ketamine for alcohol addiction, and how the company Awakn is working to sober people up.

Ketamine for alcohol addiction

Ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogen, which is often confused for being a psychedelic. Though it can produce sensory hallucinations and euphoria in users, it has a different mode of action then psychedelics, which exert much of their influence on the neurotransmitter serotonin. Ketamine on the other hand is more of a dopaminergic compound, which is also known for its effects on NMDA receptors.

It sits in schedule III of the Controlled substances list as an approved anesthetic, and it’s this placement that allows for a gray-market of ketamine clinics, where the drug is prescribed off-label for a range of psychological issues, ranging from depression to anxiety to PTSD to postpartum depression to addiction.


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Ketamine’s ability to affect mood was noticed in early 1960’s prisoner studies, but this information was essentially buried for many years. It was also shown as a safe drug at that time since ketamine doesn’t lower blood pressure or respiration rates; and doesn’t have a death toll worth mentioning. Ketamine was big in the 80’s club scene, and remains a popular street drug today. It wasn’t looked to as a medication until much later, getting approval as esketamine in 2019, for treatment resistant depression only.

How do we know this drug is useful for dealing with addiction? While we don’t have a host of clinical trials, there are some to look at, and what they show is interesting. Particularly this one entitled Treatment of compulsive behaviour in eating disorders with intermittent ketamine infusions. Published in 1998, the study shows how ketamine works for the compulsive thoughts related to eating disorders. In it, researchers hypothesize this is because:

Cycle of addiction
Cycle of addiction

“Memory is a neocortical neuronal network, excitation of which involves the hippocampus, with recall occurring by re-excitement of the same specific network. Excitement of the hippocampus by glutamate-NMDA receptors, leading to long-term potentiation (LTP), can be blocked by ketamine.” The translation? That memory acts like a network, and when excited, it creates very particular pathways within the brain. Recall of a memory can then re-excite the pathways, making for circular thought. Ketamine, according to the research team, can possibly stop this process, and get the person out of their negative-thinking loop.

The study performed was small, including only 15 participants. Nine out of the 15 showed significant and prolonged decreases in compulsive thoughts after the trials with ketamine; meaning less compulsive and circular thoughts about food. Eating disorders are their own form of addiction, and though a drug isn’t taken, specific actions are constantly repeated, with a mindset and behaviors consistent with drug addiction.

Psychedelics for addiction

Psychedelic drugs also exemplify this ability, or something similar. DMT and psilocybin trials into depression both show successful results, which are often quite long-lasting. In MDMA Phase II trials for PTSD, performed by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), 67% of treatment resistant cases didn’t qualify as PTSD a year after treatment ended. Said one participant of the trials:

“I’m tempted to say MDMA gave me ‘hope,’ but that word isn’t right—the insight was more substantive than hope. I’d held the sensation in my body; I understood, at a visceral level, what might someday be mine: the sense of peace and joy within my body. For me, the therapeutic process could unfurl from there.”

Another example is one of the first examples of psychedelics in medicine. It involves using LSD by doctors like Humphrey Osmond; who treated people for alcohol addiction back in the mid-1900’s. Osmond’s results were so good, they showed that about 40-45% of alcoholics didn’t drink again within a year after a single LSD treatment. Sadly, most of this is suppressed today, with different excuses given for why the data isn’t used. So though we’ve known that LSD is great for treating alcohol addiction for many decades, it gets investigated now as if that work never took place.

During the mid-1900’s, several doctors used LSD for a range of issues. Beyond addiction, doctors like Ronald Sandison in the UK, also ran trials to test the efficacy of LSD on psychoneurotic patients, with generally positive results. All of this disappeared by the late 60’s when the drug was uniformly illegalized in both the US and the UK. This stopped research and treatment with it, despite all the good it did.

Awakn to study Ketamine for alcohol addiction

Alcohol is one of the biggest killers out there, especially when considering it causes needless deaths and damage, both from health issues, and the act of drunk driving. Alcohol isn’t like opioids where death is often right away. Though plenty of people overdose on alcohol yearly, its main threat is in the diseases it causes over time. According to the CDC, 140,000 people in the US alone die yearly from alcohol-related issues. In 2016, there were 10,497 drunk-driving deaths, to give an idea of how many completely unrelated people die because of this drug.

It’s also incredibly difficult for hardcore drinkers to stop drinking. Alcohol is capable of causing a physical addiction that can come complete with deadly seizures as a part of delirium tremens. Beyond the physical addiction, alcohol is firmly embedded in social and personal cultures, and a drug we use collectively to calm nerves and anxiety, and ease pain. It’s not so easy to erase it from the mind, or change behaviors surrounding it, and that means quitting is very difficult.

Alcohol addiction and ketamine answer
Alcohol addiction and ketamine answer

In a showing of support for ketamine to treat alcohol addiction, the company Awakn Life Sciences recently announced its Phase III trials that use ketamine-assisted therapy for the treatment of severe alcohol use disorder. The trials are to be carried out in seven different NHS facilities in the UK. 66% of the cost of these trials was already accounted for in grant funding by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). Awakn Life Sciences will foot the bill for the remaining ~£763,637($920,000).

The trials are set to be conducted by The University of Exeter, and headed by Professor of Psychopharmacology Celia Morgan, who is also the Head of Ketamine-Assisted Therapy at Awakn. Of the project, Morgan stated, “More than two million UK adults have serious alcohol problems, yet only one in five of those get treatment.”

She continued, “Unfortunately, three out of four people who quit alcohol will be back drinking heavily after a year. Alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5 billion each year, and wider UK society around £40 billion… Alcohol problems affect not only the individual but families, friends and communities, and related deaths have increased still further since the pandemic.”

She said, “We urgently need new treatments. If this trial definitively establishes that ketamine and therapy works, we hope we can begin to see it used in NHS settings.” As of right now, 280 people with severe drinking problems will have the benefit of being participants in the study.

How will it work? Participants will be “randomly allocated into two groups. Half will be given ketamine in conjunction with the proprietary psychological therapy, developed for the Phase II trial. The other half will be given a very low dose of ketamine and a seven-session education package about the harmful effects of alcohol.”

These Phase III trials come on the heels of Phase II trials which were announced in January 2022. The results of the earlier trials were positive, and show an 86% average abstinence rate, six months after the ketamine treatment. Pre-trial it was a 2% rate.

Awakn also opening new ketamine clinic

Awakn is really getting in there, and the company is en route to help a lot more people deal with their alcohol addiction. Along with its Phase III trials, which will be conducted in the UK, the company is also opening a new ketamine clinic for alcohol addiction treatment. Where is this happening? In Oslo, Norway.

Awakn Life Sciences is a publicly traded biotech company (on OTCMKTS, under AWKNF) that develops and delivers psychedelic treatments, specifically for addiction. Its immediate focus is alcohol addiction. According to its site, “Awakn is developing a better solution to treat addiction: psychedelic therapeutics – drugs and therapies used in combination. We are a biotech company researching, developing and commercializing these therapeutics.”

Ketamine clinics for alcohol addiction
Ketamine clinics for alcohol addiction

As part of the company’s plan to expand into Norway, it signed a five-year lease to set up shop in Oslo. The new clinic will have six treatment rooms, and will be located in or close to Oslo’s city center. This will take the place of the company’s current site in Oslo, with increased capacity. It will also possibly be a site for clinical trials in the future. This new clinic is expected to open in the 2nd quarter of 2023.

That’s just one though, and the company already has plans for a 2nd Norwegian site in the city of Trondheim. This too is expected to open sometime in 2023. If you’re wondering why Norway, its likely because Dr. Lowan Stewart, the regional director for Awakn, is already a known and renowned physician in Nordic medical communities. He will lead the Oslo clinic, where it is also his responsibility to make ketamine therapy a part of Norway’s public healthcare.

Awakn’ protocol for using ketamine to treat alcohol addiction has received a lot of positive attention. So much so that the company also partnered with different ketamine clinics in America, to create licensing agreements for implementation of Awakn’s therapy protocol, outside of Awakn’s general business. This is a good indication that ketamine treatment for alcohol use disorder is on the horizon for the US as well.

Conclusion

While ketamine won’t work for everyone, it seems to work well when it does. Hardcore drinking is the cause of tons of problems both in personal lives and on roadways. If ketamine can help bring down these problems by assisting those suffering from alcohol addiction; there’s a whole new reason for the industry to explode even more.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.

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