In the News: Researchers Destroy Brain’s “Pleasure Centers” to Treat Addiction
Addiction is a chronic disease. Drug and alcohol addicts will destroy their lives to get high, no matter what. The need for their drug of choice overpowers everything else in their life. If they don’t get help for their addiction and choose abstinence, they will most likely end up dying from their use. With addiction comes a level of desperation and loss of hope. Some can get so deep in that they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sadly, some even take their own lives. Imagine if that was you, it could have been you, and you have (had) the option of undergoing a surgery that would destroy the “pleasure centers” of your brain so that you no longer could feel that high from any drug. In fact, you might not be able to feel any kind of joy. Would it be worth the risk?
Time is reporting that researchers in China are doing just that. Neurologist are performing a surgery that destroys parts of the brain’s “pleasure centers” in heroin addicts and alcoholics. The goal is to stop drug cravings. But damaging the brain region involved in addictive desires risks permanently ending the entire spectrum of natural longings and emotions, including the ability to feel joy.
“The surgery is actually performed while patients are awake in order to minimize the chances of destroying regions necessary for sensation, consciousness or movement. Surgeons use heat to kill cells in small sections of both sides of the brain’s nucleus accumbens. That region is saturated with neurons containing dopamine and endogenous opioids, which are involved in pleasure and desire related both to drugs and to ordinary experiences like eating, love and sex”.
In 2004, the Ministry of Health in China banned this procedure due to lack of data on long term outcomes and growing outrage in Western media over ethical issues about whether the patients were fully aware of the risks. However, some doctors were allowed to continue to perform it for research purposes—and recently, a Western medical journal even published a new study of the results. In 2007, The Wall Street Journal detailed the practice of a physician who claimed he performed 1,000 such procedures to treat mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and epilepsy, after the ban in 2004; the surgery for addiction has also since been done on at least that many people.
The concern is that should such a severe and permanent surgery be exposed to the public? Is the data presented correct or is it being manipulated to meet “publication standards” as Shi-Min Fang, a Chinese biochemist who became a freelance journalist and recently won the journal Nature‘s Maddox prize for his exposes of widespread fraud in Chinese research, has suggested. It’s very easy for researchers to hide behind the medical industry and present a “cure” for addiction and make outlandish claims for its’ benefits but brain surgery is very complex and anytime the skull is opened there can be major risks – risks that include loss of memory, brain fuction, and death. Yet, these scientist are proposing the removal of vital parts of the brain that make us “human”.
That is horrifying. I’m not convinced.
Read the full story here.
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