Mexican tripping weed could provide an unlikely answer to helping methamphetamine users wean themselves off addictive drugs, Victoria University researchers say.
The hallucinogenic weed, also known as salvia, is a legal high in New Zealand that can be bought easily online or in specialty stores.
Little is known about its use or of its effects but it is believed to have a unique structure that could have anti-addictive properties, according to senior lecturer Dr Bronwyn Kivell, who is undertaking the research with help from colleague Susan Schenk.
"Currently there are no therapeutic drugs to treat addiction to methamphetamine and cocaine," Dr Kivell said.
"Our research has identified several new compounds that have anti-addiction effects in pre-clinical models with few side effects."
The compounds found in salvia are being developed at the University of Kansas and tested at Victoria University with the aim of developing a treatment for methamphetamine and cocaine addicts that could be similar to a nicotine patch.
Dr Kivell surveyed 167 Wellington salvia users in 2010 and found the effects of salvia were variable among users.
About a quarter of respondents found it unpleasant but 45 per cent enjoyed its effects.
"Banning every mind-altering drug is not going to work so we need to find therapies to help people with their addiction," she said.
"It is a very complex field and there is a lot yet to understand about why some people who take drugs get addicted and others don't."
Alcohol Drug Association chief executive Paul Rout said the research seemed promising and therapeutic drugs that could be regulated and controlled would play a major role in future in managing drug addiction.
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