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Exendin-4: A Diabetes Medication May Help Cocaine Addicts Quit

The diabetes medication Exendin-4 may become the first effective medication against cocaine addiction.

Can an existing diabetes drug cure cocaine addiction?

Well, more experiments are needed, but Vanderbilt University researchers say that the diabetes drug Exendin-4, which targets dopamine systems in the brain, may also work against cocaine and meth addiction.

The Experiment

Using animal subjects, the researchers injected Exendin-4 and watched to see how the medication would influence cocaine consumption.

The Results

  • The medication, which is simply a synthetic and long lasting version of the peptide hormone GLP-1, blocked the rewarding effects (the high) from cocaine.
  • This result occurred regardless of the dose of Exendin-4 given
  • There were no noticeable side effects
  • Although the drug was only tested against cocaine, the researchers suspect it would also dull the rewarding effects of other psycho-stimulants, like methamphetamine, and that it would work for other disorders which have a dopaminergic component, such as obesity and schizophrenia.


The researchers say that the findings are significant because:

  • The medication is already FDA approved to treat diabetes and so should be easily transferable to addiction medicine.
  • There are no existing effective medications for psycho-stimulant addiction


Lead researcher Gregg Stanwood, Ph.D noted that since addiction is such a complex disorder in humans it’s unlikely that all people would respond to the medication or that it would ‘cure’ addiction for anyone, stating, "We don't expect this to be a magic bullet where one can simply take this drug and their addiction goes away, but hopefully a medicine like this, in combination with social and behavioral support, will help an addict on the road to recovery." 

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