An Effective and Safe Novel Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder: Unilateral Transcranial Photobiomodulation

Front Psychiatry. 2021 Aug 10:12:713686. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.713686. eCollection 2021.


Background: The opioid epidemic is a global tragedy even with current treatments, and a novel, safe, and effective treatment would be welcomed. We report here our findings from our second randomized controlled trial to evaluate unilateral transcranial photobiomodulation as a treatment for opioid use disorder. Methods: We enrolled 39 participants with active opioid cravings at 2 sites, 19 received the active treatment which consisted of a 4-min twice weekly (every 3 or 4 days) application of a light-emitting diode at 810 nm with an irradiance of 250 mW/cm2 and a fluence of 60 J/cm2 to the forehead over either the left or right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex with a fluence to the brain of 2.1 J/cm2. Twenty participants received a sham treatment with the same device with foil over the bulb. The side of the treatment was based on Dual-Brain Psychology, which posits that one hemisphere is more affected by past maltreatments and is more prone to anxiety and drug cravings that the other hemisphere. We treated the hemisphere with the more positive hemispheric emotional valence (HEV) by 2 tests for HEV. Results: Our primary outcome was changes in pre-treatment opioid craving scale (OCS) minus baseline, and we found using a mixed model that the active group had a highly significant treatment * time benefit over the sham group, p < 0.0001, effect size at the last follow-up of 1.5. The active treatment benefited those not on buprenorphine as well as those not on it. The TimeLine Follow Back measure of opioid use was significantly better in the actively treated group, p = 0.0001, with an effect size of 0.45. We observed no adverse effects. Conclusion: Active unilateral transcranial photobiomodulation to the brain hemisphere with the better HEV was better than sham in the reduction of opioid cravings and opioid use to a very significant degree in a RCT of 39 participants at 2 independent sites. In the active group those on buprenorphine and those not on it both had improvements in cravings over the study. No adverse responses were reported in either group. Identifier: NCT04340622.

Keywords: hemispheric laterality; opioid cravings; opioid use; opioid use disorder; photobiomodulation.

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