A Vaccine to Curb Addicts’ Highs

New research shows that our immune system can mute the effects of cocaine and other stimulant drugs.
The idea of using the body’s immune system to combat the effects of addictive drugs goes back to animal studies conducted in the early 1970s, but the first evidence that a vaccine could help people with cocaine addiction didn’t emerge until 2009. In a groundbreaking clinical trial, Thomas Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine and his colleagues tested a vaccine that combines molecules of cocaine with a harmless component of cholera. Sensing what appears to be an emerging infection, the body generates an immune response to the cholera that extends to the cocaine. At the end of the trial, patients whose bodies generated a strong immune response to the vaccine had almost 30% more cocaine-free drug tests than did patients who generated a weak response or who received a placebo.

—Dr. Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a former senior policy adviser in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Wall Street Journal

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