London: Valium-like drugs use the same potentially addictive "reward pathways" in the brain as heroin and cannabis, scientists said on Wednesday, findings which may help in the search for non-addictive alternative anxiety drugs. Researchers from Switzerland and the United States found that so-called benzodiazepine drugs, such as Ativan, Xanax and Valium, exert a calming effect by boosting action of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the same way as addictive drugs like opioids and cannabinoids.
The study found that benzodiazepines seemed to work by binding to a particular part of the GABA, which the researchers named as the alpha1 sub-unit of the GABA type A receptor. The findings show that developing similar benzodiazepines that bind to a different part may offer the same drug benefits without the addictive side effects, they said. A study published earlier this month found that people with higher levels of dopamine in the brain tend to be more prone to addictive behaviour.
Drug companies have been trying for some time to develop next-generation benzodiazepines by tweaking their chemical make-up to deliver a more selective effect that avoids unwanted side effects, but it has so far proved an uphill struggle. German scientists conducting early research into a new compound said last year they thought they may have found a better anxiety drug which could counteract panic attacks without the side effects of existing drugs. In 2003 Merck & Co abandoned work on another potential anxiety drug known as GABA Alpha 2/Alpha 3, after mid-stage clinical trial results were disappointing. PTI
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