Exciting findings from the Phillips Lab hold promise for new non-opioid therapeutics for symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Earlier this month, a research team led by Dr. Tony Phillips published their paper titled “Neural bases for attenuation of morphine withdrawal by Heantos-4: role of l-tetrahydropalmatine” in the Nature-affiliated journal, Scientific Reports.
The study conducted by Dr. Phillips’ lab, which includes Soyon Ahn, Maya Nesbit, Haiyan Zou, Giada Vacca, and Peter Axerio-Cilies of the UBC Department of Psychiatry, as well as Tran Van Sung of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, addresses the use of Heantos-4, a botanical formulation that greatly diminishes gastrointestinal distress and other physiological signs of distress during voluntary withdrawal from dependence on opioids.
Heantos-4 is approved for use in Vietnam as a supplement and, to date, has been used safely by over 10,000 individuals in Vietnam to successfully transition through the drug detoxification phase, which serves as the principal barrier to overcoming chronic opioid use. Despite these promising clinical findings, little is known about the effects of Heantos-4 on brain function, including possible mechanisms of action. The Phillips Lab’s research fills this important gap by confirming that Heantos-4 reverses a state of suppressed dopamine function induced by the opioid antagonist naloxone in morphine dependent rats. Furthermore, this biochemical effect is accompanied by a reduction of opioid withdrawal signs.
A particularly novel finding identifies a single molecular constituent of the Heantos-4 formulation called l-tedtrahydropalmatine (l-THP) in both blood and brain following oral administration of this botanical formulation. The study shows that l-THP is effective in reversing the suppression of dopamine function in brain, while also reducing withdrawal signs induced by naloxone.
Dr. Phillips and his team are now working closely with Dr. Michael Krausz, UBC Psychiatry Professor and LEEF Chair in Addiction, to conduct clinical studies with Heantos-4 in BC in 2021.