Aims: Here we briefly review the preclinical and clinical evidence that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA(B)) agonists may be useful in the treatment of cocaine addiction. An extensive series of studies in rats has demonstrated that baclofen and other GABA(B) agonists reduce cocaine self-administration in an apparently specific manner.
Methods: A number of schedules of reinforcement, including fixed-ratio, progressive-ratio and discrete trials procedures, have been used to model various aspects of cocaine reinforcement and addiction.
Results: The results show that systemic pretreatment with baclofen can reduce cocaine intake at doses that do not affect responding for other positive reinforcers, such as food. Direct intracerebral injections of baclofen into the ventral tegmental area also produce a specific reduction in cocaine self-administration, suggesting that an inhibition of dopaminergic neurons may be responsible for the effect. Recent clinical evidence and case reports indicate some therapeutic value for baclofen in controlling cocaine intake and craving, although the evidence from controlled clinical trials has been less than convincing. Perhaps the most intriguing data come from human imaging studies, wherein cocaine addicts report increased cocaine craving and activation of orbital-frontal cortex, anterior cingulate and amygdala when shown videotapes of drug paraphernalia and other addicts taking cocaine. The craving is reduced and the limbic activation is eliminated in cocaine-dependent patients who had been taking baclofen (10-20 mg twice daily) for 7-10 days.
Conclusions: Systematic clinical studies of GABA(B) agonists are needed to determine the extent to which these drugs might serve as tools to promote abstinence in cocaine users seeking treatment for their addiction. Several areas must still be addressed, including potential side-effects that may limit compliance and whether GABA(B) agonists interfere with other, non-drug-related behaviours.