Opioid is a popular drug of abuse and addiction. We evaluated acupuncture as a non-pharmacological treatment with a focus on managing withdrawal symptoms. Electrical stimulation at a low frequency (2 Hz) accelerates endorphin and encephalin production. High-frequency stimulation (100 Hz) up-regulates the dynorphin level that in turn suppresses withdrawal at the spinal level. The effect of 100-Hz electroacupuncture may be associated with brain-derived neurotrophic factor activation at the ventral tegmental area, down-regulation of cAMP response element-binding protein, and enhanced dynorphin synthesis in the spinal cord, periaqueductal grey, and hypothalamus. Clinical trials of acupuncture for the management of different withdrawal symptoms were reviewed. The potential of acupuncture to allay opioid-associated depression and anxiety, and its possible use as an adjuvant treatment were evident. A lack of effect was indicated for opioid craving. Most studies were hampered by inadequate reporting details and heterogeneity, thus future well-designed studies are needed to confirm the efficacy of acupuncture in opioid addiction treatment.
Keywords: Acupuncture; Electroacupuncture; Heroin; Opioid-related disorders; Substance withdrawal syndrome.