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Acupuncture for Methamphetamine Addiction Recovery
Unlike the psychoactive stimulants traditionally applied towards spiritual quests, methamphetamine is synthetic, not plant-derived. This artificial, dopamine releaser also packs a more powerful punch than its natural counterpart, cocaine (1). The effects of meth on the body are comprehensive and rapidly detrimental and The American Medical Association has deemed meth addiction to be a chronic disease (2). Because meth effects are so tenacious, recovering from this addiction is a life-long process that involves conscious changes in lifestyle to prevent relapse.
Acupuncture, which dates back to ancient Chinese medical practice, can play an important role in this lifestyle change for recovering meth addicts. This technique involves the insertion of fine stainless steel needles into muscle tissue along well known “energy channels” in the body called “meridians.” According to Mark Goldby (3), a licensed acupuncturist with a long-standing practice in Portland, “The ideal state of health is when the Qi (pronounced “chee”) or vital energy is flowing freely through these channels without any blockages so that the body maintains a state of balance. Acupuncture facilitates freeing up the flow of Qi. The blockage of Qi can be associated with every form of illness there is.”
The traditional acupuncture approach to drug addiction is a method called auricular acupuncture, developed by French doctor Paul Nogier in 1955 (4). It capitalizes on the Chinese medicinal conceptualization of the ear being an “homunculus,” a miniature representation of the entire body. This technique involves the needle stimulation of five specific points on the ears. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) states that this auricular method supports addicts in developing a more optimistic and cooperative attitude towards a comprehensive recovery program that includes counseling, education and support group participation (5). Acupuncture also acts to reduce cravings, anxiety and sleep disturbance, by generating an enhanced state of balance in the body, mind and spirit.
Goldby says that there are eighty points in the ear used to treat different parts of the body, but the specific points used in the “five-point system” correspond to the lung, heart, sympathetic, kidney, liver and shin men (to calm the spirit). It has been accepted by both the Western medical and alternative medical communities that acupuncture causes the release of three different types of natural endorphins. Goldby agrees that the calming and soothing effect of acupuncture certainly supports recovering addicts during their withdrawal, but he thinks there is more to that. “It (acupuncture) seems to take the edge off a lot and helps people stay grounded, centered and focused so that they stay on task to reach their goal of overcoming their addiction.”
To help understand what type of chemical changes acupuncture may effect in the body, Goldby describes what happens with nicotine addiction. Nicotinic acid is the precursor to a neurotransmitter we have called acetylcholine. Our body makes its own nicotinic acid until we start smoking. Then the body shuts down its natural nicotine-making machinery because it can now make acetylcholine from the nicotine in the cigarettes. When a smoker quits cold turkey, suddenly their body has no acetylcholine for nerve impulse transmission across synapses. This leads to the symptoms well known to smokers: nervousness, motor skills dysfunction and anxiety. However, these withdrawal symptoms are minimized with acupuncture. One hypothesis for why this would be is that acupuncture might restart the body’s natural nicotinic acid production faster. The result is that the body doesn’t have to be deprived of its necessary neurotransmitter for too long, and that cuts down the cravings for the drug. Although nicotine and methamphetamine addiction are different chemically and physiologically, the facts known about nicotine withdrawal suggest that something similar may occur in the body with addictions to other drugs, giving a physiochemical basis for the reduction of meth cravings too.
If a meth addict in recovery struggles with cravings after ear acupuncture, a metal bead or a special seed on each ear point is applied to provide a means for continuous pressure. Traditional acupuncturists such as Goldby prefer to use vaccaria seeds (Chinese name, Wang Bu Liu Xing Zi) that have been soaked in wine. Soaking in wine brings out the medicinal qualities of the seed. Goldby purchases seeds that have already been “presoaked” and packaged on a grid backed with small segments of tape. These he applies to the ear with tweezers and presses them into place. Subsequently, whenever the cravings surface, the seeds can be rubbed by the person in recovery, allowing them more immediate control to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
The physical deterioration that occurs in an addict’s body after long-term meth use can also be successfully treated and in some cases, reversed by applying a combination of acupuncture and orally ingested Chinese herbs. Goldby has conducted research into the effects of Chinese herbal medicine and the successful repair of liver damage and periodontal disease with herbs.
Chinese herbs added to acupuncture treatment to repair liver damage from meth addiction provide additional support to recovery, as evidenced by work done with liver damage from Hepatitis C. In his practice Goldby has applied herb/acupuncture combinations to successfully treat people with Hepatitis C, after they have had a liver biopsy. After several months of treatment with Chinese herbs and acupuncture, a subsequent biopsy has shown dramatic improvements in the liver. Previous cirrhosis or liver degradation has been notably reversed, compared to the biopsy taken before treatment. Although liver has regenerative abilities, once the liver enters the fibrotic process associated with Hepatitis C, it just continues to degrade, unless herbal treatment intervenes. Goldby states that, “The normal course of liver degradation with Hepatitis C is it goes to fibrosis to cirrhosis and increases the risk of liver cancer. The person may die of cirrhosis of the liver, or cancer, with Hep. C. But with Chinese herbs we often see that process reversed.”
Reduction of periodontal disease through the use of Chinese herbs and acupuncture has also been observed. Goldby states that, “I worked on an NIH research grant looking at Chinese herbal treatment of periodontal disease, gum disease which causes the same thing, your teeth fall out, gums bleed and deteriorate. The preliminary research showed that there is a lot of hope with Chinese medicine when it comes to treating gum disease and tooth loss.” This is good news for those in recovery from methamphetamine use, who have suffered decay and disintegration of bones and teeth.
For those seeking out acupuncture and Chinese herbs as a tool for their recovery, there are several treatment centers in Portland, Oregon that offer this option. Those interested are encouraged to visit the website supplied here for list of treatment centers in Oregon (6). The treatment model used in Portland is also applied in acupuncture programs across the country. It involves a combination of group therapy and acupuncture. Healers who use this multi-faceted approach have been shown to have the highest success rate for recovery of methamphetamine addiction (7).
Y. JeanMarie Calvillo Ph.D. is an environmental microbiologist and freelance science writer. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon and is a “pen-for-hire” on topics ranging from medical to environmental issues. Please contact Dr. Calvillo at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Site updated Fall 09