Ketamine, the party drug, will be studied as a treatment for problem gambling

Published on: January 16, 2023, 03:26 am.

Last updated: 16 January 2023, 04:09.

Drugs and gambling are generally terrible bedfellows. But research will soon begin to study the effects of the horse anesthetic turned illegal party drug, ketamine, on problem gamblers.

Ketamine, problem gambling
Ketamine is used recreationally (illegally) for its reported ability to induce a euphoric and mildly hallucinogenic state. It is also a tranquilizer for horses. But could it hold the key to treating gambling addiction? (Image: Shutterstock)

Academics at the University of Exeter in England are working on the theory that the drugs’ impact on memory could be used to destroy the positive reinforcement players feel when they win, thereby inhibiting the desire to play.

The idea is that addictions are fundamentally acquired or learned behaviors, and that ketamine has the ability to “rewrite” these memories. A 2019 study found that the drug’s effect on memory showed promise in treating alcohol addiction.

Memory reset

“Something we’re really interested in addressing in gambling addiction is a kind of superstitious thinking that we particularly think ketamine might work on,” Celia Morgan, professor of psychopharmacology at Exeter, told the scientific news. Technological networks.

[This] it is where players come to associate certain cues and have to overlearn the association between a cue and winning. They engage in very superstitious behaviors, which is quite unique to gambling.” she added.

The researchers are currently looking for human guinea pigs to take part in the study. Volunteers must be regular players and must be over 18 for obvious reasons.

Down the “K-Hole”

Developed as an anesthetic and still used in veterinary medicine, especially in larger animals, ketamine is derived from phencyclidine (PCP), also known as angel dust. It is used recreationally for its ability to induce a euphoric and mildly hallucinogenic state.

Users who overdose have reported experiencing an unpleasant state of dissociation and confusion known as the “K hole.”

We use one of the capabilities of ketamine, which is to block a process of memory restoration. In the study we are doing, we will reactivate gambling memories. We’ll show people, depending on how they gamble, a roulette wheel or slot machines or horses, and that triggers the memory.” Morgan said.

“Normally in memory, that means this memory becomes active and you can update it. Then it is restored – saved again, in computer terms – and set stronger,” she added. “If you give ketamine during this reactivation time, what has been found particularly in animals is that this can weaken the memory trace. That’s what we’re looking at in this study.”

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