Pharmacotherapy of stimulant dependence: one of Japan's greatest public health challenges

Nihon Shinkei Seishin Yakurigaku Zasshi. 1999 Oct;19(4):159-86.


Stimulant dependence has become a major public health problem in the world over the last 15 years, and pharmacotherapies have been evolved based on our understanding of the neurobiological alterations induced by these drugs. Among the stimulants cocaine and amphetamine are the most common dependencies, and they share several common pathophysiologies in producing disease and in guiding medication approaches to treatment--neurotransmitter re-normalization, reversal of cerebral perfusion abnormalities and peripheral cocaine blockers. First is neurotransmitter re-normalization. A relative catecholamine deficiency occurs following prolonged abuse of cocaine and amphetamine due to transporter upregulation and receptor downregulation. This abnormality in dopamine and serotonin neurotransmission appears to be associated with depression and has supported antidepressant treatments to re-normalize neurotransmission. Dopaminergic and serotonergic agonists have also been given to re-normalize neurotransmission, but in contrast to substitution therapies such as methadone, LAAM or buprenorphine for opioids, these approaches have had limited success in unselected cocaine dependent patients. As a correlary approach to substitution, however, aspects of dopamine function can be augmented by dopamine beta hydroxylase inhibitors such as disulfiram to increase the aversive properties of stimulants and decrease their abuse. The second medication approach relates to cerebral perfusion defects and associated cognitive deficits due to vasoconstriction and abnormalities in platelets, which can respond to antiplatelet therapies as well as excitatory amino acid (EAA) antagonists. These EAA antagonists can prevent neuronal damage that is due to the release of EAA during cerebral ischemia induced by stimulant use. Finally, peripheral blockade treatment for cocaine may be possible using a newly developed active vaccine that blocks the uptake of cocaine from the bloodstream into the brain. Its potential efficacy has been shown in rodents that decrease their self-administration of cocaine when immunized with this vaccine, and preliminary human studies support its safety and immunogenicity. In summary, stimulant pharmacotherapy has made great progress in developing treatments based on understanding the neurobiology of these abused drugs, but these pharmacotherapies must be delivered in the context of appropriate behavioral and cognitive psychotherapies, which are also rapidly evolving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / complications
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Excitatory Amino Acids / physiology
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology


  • Excitatory Amino Acids
  • Neurotransmitter Agents