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Sleeping pills: discovered addiction triggers?
In the case of sleeping pills and sedatives containing the substance benzodiazepine, it has long been a matter of dispute as to how and whether they can cause addiction. Using mice, Swiss researchers have deciphered the mode of action in the brain and possible consequences.
Sleep and sedatives containing benzodiazepine have long been controversial as to how and whether they can cause addiction. Swiss researchers used mice to decipher the mode of action in the brain and possible consequences. The scientists from research institutions in Geneva, Zurich and Massachusetts (USA) have now published their results in the specialist journal "Nature" (issue 463; 769-774) under the title "Neural bases for addictive properties of benzodiazepines".
They found that the benzodiazepines increase the effects of an inhibitory brain messenger (neurotransmitter). The benzodiazepines attach themselves to the so-called GABAA receptors. These are inhibitory receptors that are widely distributed in the brain and spinal cord. They make up about 30 percent of the receptors.
According to the scientists, the agents are particularly active in the area of the midbrain and the so-called "ventral tegmentum (VTA)". They inhibit the activity of nerve cells that inhibit our inner reward system. If our reward system is not suppressed, they work similarly to heroin, cocaine and other drugs.
But the GABAA receptors are again divided into subunits. If the agent acts on one of them with the name "alpha1", then the effect described above sets in. Another sub-receptor called "alpha 2" has an anxiolytic effect. This means that an anti-anxiety effect and an addictive effect do not necessarily have to go together.
Through this differentiation, further studies are now to show whether it is possible to develop agents that are harmless to humans and specifically only affect one type of receptor. On the one hand, this could mean that benzodiazepine-containing agents, which are supposed to relax the muscles, have a calming, antispasmodic and sleep-promoting effect, that they could have a more specific effect.
This is important because the benzodiazepines have one of the highest rates of abuse in the world. They are usually prescribed for anxiety or massive sleep disorders. On the other hand, further studies with “alpha 1” receptors could investigate a medicinal influence on addictions.
The German Center for Addiction Hazards estimates that around one and a half million people in Germany suffer from drug addiction (Yearbook Addiction 2004). There could therefore be an economic incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to work on the specification of the funds. In addition to the biochemical view, the psychosocial aspects of addiction should not be neglected. There are also remedies in naturopathy that have similar effects: The substance valerenic acid found in the roots of the valerian plant is also said to have an effect on the GABAA receptors and promote sleep.
St. John's wort is said to lighten the mood and promote sleep. It has even been on prescription in Germany for an indication of "moderate depression" since April 1, 2009. (Thorsten Fischer, Naturopath Osteopathy, February 15th, 2010)
Abstract of the study
Valerian & L-tryptophan: approaches to sleep disorders