Addiction treatment needs improvement. Exploring new methods is essential to advancing the field. This not only benefits the addict, but also their family, friends, work, community and country as a whole.
To imagine the latest radical approach to treating addiction, one might envision an amalgamation of old “therapies” including electro-shock therapy and trepanning.
Brain surgery for addiction is not a futuristic concept at the dawn of its conception. On the contrary, brain surgery for addiction is happening now in China and a clinical trial is scheduled in West Virginia this year. Like any emerging treatment, brain surgery to treat addiction is worth a closer look to consider potential costs, benefits, risks, rewards and ethical delivery of services.
How The Technique Works
The brain surgery technique used to treat addiction is deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS is already an established treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms that cannot be managed with medications. The surgery involves drilling two small holes in the skull and feeding electrodes into deeper parts of the brain like the nucleus accumbens. A battery pack is also implanted into the chest to power the electrodes.
The thinking in using DBS for addiction is that the electrodes could act like a pace-maker modulating activity in the reward system. If all goes well, in theory, one might be able to turn off cravings with the flick of a switch.
What Side-Effects Could Surgery For Addiction Have?
Testimonials from successful patients are compelling. The ability to turn off cravings with a remote control brain stimulator is enticing. Some concerns have also been raised however. There is no scientific consensus on where electrodes should be placed. Two U.S. labs dropped clinical DBS trials that were underway because the preliminary results didn’t justify the risks of the treatment.
In general, DBS carries potential side effects like apathy, depression, euphoria, hallucinations and personality changes. However, adverse side-effects are potentially reversible through adjustments and recalibrations of electrodes.
Addiction Treatment and an Ethical Responsibility
Trials of DBS for addiction are moving forward around the world. With the current risks of DBS, well-designed, safe, ethical trials are critical to ensure patient safety. It is also worth noting that it appears easier to gain FDA approval in the USA or Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK for researching experimental brain surgery for addiction than psychedelic-assisted treatment.
If we’re going to move forward with brain surgery research, then we have an ethical responsibility to move forward with psychedelic treatment also. To date, psychedelic treatment for addiction has a stronger evidence base than brain surgery and it is far safer and less invasive. Most importantly, all areas of promise in all treatments should be given adequate attention and investigation to ensure that we continue to improve and advance the health and social care professions.
How Has It Helped Those Who’ve Had The Surgery Already?
Gerod Buckhalter in the USA was picked to trial the DBS treatment. You can see how he got on here.
What We Think
We think that there is a place and time for all treatment options to be available to the right person, in the right circumstances.
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