Low Level Laser Therapy Science and Research:
Low level laser Therapy for addiction
An Original Article on Laser Therapy by
Julia Breur PhD., LMFT
Few things can be more troubling or devastating to a person’s life or career than a serious addiction. The dependence on a chemical or a sensation can become all-consuming. Over time, every waking act is structured to obtain more of the addictive substance. What is worse, in a true chemical dependency, which many addictions are, the sensation of withdrawal can be nearly unbearable. Withdrawal pain has been compared to labor pains, severe migraines, or physical trauma. For many, addiction treatment is not a choice, but a necessity. However without an adequate substitute, the pain and discomfort of withdrawal can be enough to keep one locked in addiction. Fortunately the answer may be low level laser therapy for treating addiction.
There are a number of ways that people can free themselves from addiction and chemical dependency. Some advocate going “cold turkey” or stopping the addictive behavior/substance altogether. This can work in some highly motivated and dedicated people, but the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelming. Many return to the addictive substance or behavior because of withdrawal.
Other people advocate a gradual weaning process, like nicotine patches for smoking cessation. The idea is that by reducing the amount of nicotine (the addictive substance in tobacco products like cigarettes), the body only needs to endure little bits of withdrawal pain in stages. Instead of feeling full withdrawal all at once, the pain is reduced but extended over time. In other words, the difference between cold turkey and nicotine replacement is like the difference between pulling a bandage off quickly or slowly. Either way, it is going to hurt.
Another model for treating addiction is the complete replacement approach. The best example is the use of methadone to treat heroin addiction. Instead of using illegally-obtained heroin, those addicted to the opioid enter government-sanctioned programs that supply them with another opioid, methadone. The addiction is not really treated; one addiction is replaced by another. The illegal drug addiction is now replaced with a legal one, but the addiction itself is not really treated or cured.
There is another option that has been tried with some success, that is, the use of laser therapy for treating addiction. The “space age” technology of lasers has been combined with the ancient traditions of Chinese medicine to provide a novel approach to the treatment of addiction.
Using laser therapy for addiction treatment, laser light is applied to carefully selected acupuncture or acupressure points. Generally these involve points around the ear but several possibilities exist depending on the patient and the acupuncturist’s findings. A low energy, non-ablative laser is used to stimulate the acupuncture points much in the same way that thin needles would be used in acupuncture or fingers would be used in acupressure. The light energy from the low level laser penetrates the skin without breaking the skin to stimulate the acupuncture point. The wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum primarily used to treat addiction have been in the red and/or in the infrared spectrum. Laser Therapeutics offers lasers that emit in these spectral bands.
When laser-assisted acupuncture has been helpful in treating addiction1 (most notably with nicotine addiction and cocaine addiction) it has been used in the withdrawal period. This means that participants chose to abstain from using their drug of choice for the period of the study. During this time, the highest intensity of withdrawal symptoms would be expected, including aches and pains, irritability, cravings, sleep disturbances, etc., depending on the type of addiction.
Low level laser for treating addiction was able to reduce the duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms. The main symptoms that laser-assisted acupuncture was able to treat were the general pain and discomfort of withdrawal, and irritability.
This beneficial effect of low level laser for treating addiction can be viewed from two perspectives. From the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, laser light energy stimulates points on the body’s natural meridians. The treatment is able to improve the flow of qi (pronounced chi) in the body. Qi is often thought of as the body’s life force (a concept that resonates mostly with Westerners. Easterner’s have a separate cultural framework that makes the concept of qi easier to understand). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, health and disease depend on the proper flow of qi through meridians in the body. Addiction, like all diseases, can be explained by an imbalance of this life force.
From a Western perspective, the mechanisms of low level laser for treating addiction are a bit different. Since Western medicine prefers a reductionist view, one potential mechanism of action that has been demonstrated is the ability of low level laser energy to stimulate the release of endorphins in the body.
Endorphins are naturally occurring chemicals in the body that relieve pain. In other words, when we experience high levels of pain, our body releases chemicals called endorphins. When endorphins interact and bind to endorphin receptors, pain sensations are blocked and pleasant feelings are evoked. Just to drive the point home, opioid drugs like morphine and heroin bind to and stimulate these endorphin receptors.
Thus when low level lasers increase the levels of circulating endorphins, patients treated with this intervention have less pain. Laser energy can also interfere with nociceptors (pain receptors) in the body. Thus the aches and pains of withdrawal are diminished by low level laser therapy. However, this second mechanism is likely more applicable to the treatment of acute and chronic pain rather than addiction.
The endorphin link may go a little deeper than just mediation of pain. It seems that the way patients with alcoholism respond to circulating endorphins is different than those without alcoholism.2 This may also extend to other drugs of addiction like opioids (heroin, opium, etc.). It appears likely that the mechanism of action of low level laser for treating addiction is highly complex, yet at the moment all of the details are not fully understood.
What is clear is that, when properly administered, low level laser stimulation of specific points on the body can reduce or ameliorate the symptoms of addiction and withdrawal in many individuals. As we learn more about the process and the complex neuropsychiatric processes involved in addiction, we will be better able to tailor low level laser therapy for the treatment of addiction. For more information on low level laser for the treatment of addiction, visit us at: http://www.lasertherapeutics.us