A Study in Gambling: Could Ketamine Be a New Treatment for Gambling Disorders?

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Disordered gambling is a global issue, with more than 10 million adult problem gamblers in the United States alone. With such a significant percentage of the population falling into financial, relational, and mental health issues due to gambling, it’s clear the U.S. needs an effective intervention program. Gamblers Anonymous meetings are a great step towards recovery, but could there be an additional treatment for gambling disorders? A biotech company has recently received approval to look into the effects of ketamine on gambling behavior.

What Is the Awakn Life Sciences Study?

Awakn Life Sciences Corp. is a biotechnology company that develops psychedelic medicine to treat addictions. In August 2021, they received permission from an ethical committee to conduct a study investigating ketamine’s influence on problem gambling behaviors. The study will be led by Celia Morgan, Ph.D. Morgan is Awakn’s head of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for addiction and a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, U.K.

The study will examine participants’ urge to gamble as well as their “superstitious thinking” that the biotech company states accompanies gambling. Specifically, it will investigate whether ketamine administration can impact the reward memories of gambling. Morgan calls this study “an exciting first step toward a new treatment for gambling disorder.”

Facts About Ketamine

Ketamine is a psychedelic that has been used as an anesthetic as well as an antidote to suicidal thoughts. Like many drugs, ketamine can be abused by partiers, but used in clinical settings and administered by doctors, this drug can provide the relief individuals couldn’t find anywhere else. Learn more about ketamine’s history and its effects in the infographic below:

How Ketamine Could Help Problem Gamblers

Studies have already been conducted on ketamine’s effect on memory associated with alcohol use, particularly in rewriting the maladaptive reward memories contributing to substance misuse. Now, this Awakn study hopes to use this same vein of thought to develop a treatment that alters how the brain remembers reward memories associated with gambling.

During the study, participants will be shown an object or image symbolizing their mode of gambling, such as a roulette wheel or slot machine, to reactivate the past gambling memory. The researchers will administer ketamine during this memory reactivation to hopefully weaken the memory trace. Awakn’s head of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy hopes the results of their mechanistic study can then be used during a clinical trial to help reduce gambling urges in people struggling with gambling disorders.

Hope for Problem Gamblers

People are often driven to gamble repeatedly after they have experienced a win, even if losses surrounded that win. If people can elect to undergo supervised ketamine treatment for their gambling disorder and the psychedelic weakens the memories leading to impulsive behaviors, they can have a greater chance of protecting their financial, relational, and mental wellbeing. It will be interesting to see the results of Awakn’s new ketamine study.

If you are struggling with a gambling problem, we are here to help. We have resources for gamblers as well as advice for families of gamblers. Contact us at any time for assistance.


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