Research: Varenicline for Meth Dependence

Each year, 24.7 million people use methamphetamine (MA) worldwide, which represents more consumers than that of heroin or cocaine.[1]  It is also a significant problem in Los Angeles County where a majority of individuals seeking publicly-funded treatment reported methamphetamine as their primary substance of abuse.[2] MA dependence has serious public health consequences such as increased risk of HIV infection, psychological distress, and heart disease, so finding an effective treatment would have great public health significance.

While behavioral treatments for MA abuse are available,[3] they aren’t particularly effective, with as many as 70% of patients failing to achieve abstinence during treatment.[4, 5] Individuals who are treated with both medication and behavioral therapy would be more likely to avoid the negative health consequences of MA abuse. Unfortunately, despite more than a decade of research, there are still no FDA-approved medications available to treat MA dependence.

CBAM is currently conducting a Phase II clinical trial to test the effectiveness of the medication varenicline (also more commonly known as Chantix) as a possible pharmacological treatment for MA dependence. Varenicline is a prescription drug approved for use in cigarette smoking cessation and has shown promise for treating alcohol dependence. It may also help reduce cognitive dysfunction and other harmful effects of MA use. In a randomized, placebo-controlled pilot trial for MA-dependent patients, we found that varenicline significantly increased retention and demonstrated a trend toward lower MA-positive urine drug screens. Together with behavioral therapy, varenicline may be a promising candidate for the treatment of MA dependence.

To learn more about this and other clinical trials, visit our Active Studies Page.

[1] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008. World Drug Report, 2008. Vienna, Austria.

[2] LA County Evaluation System, 2010

[3] Lee, N. K. and R. A. Rawson (2008). “A systematic review of cognitive and behavioural therapies for methamphetamine dependence.” Drug Alcohol Rev 27(3): 309-317.

[4] Dean, A.C., London, E.D., Sugar, C.A., Kitchen, C.M., Swanson, A.N., Heinzerling, K.G.,Kalechstein, A.D., Shoptaw, S., 2009. Predicting adherence to treatment for methamphetamine dependence from neuropsychological and drug use variables. Drug Alcohol Depend 105, 48-55. PMCID: PMC2754143

[5] Heinzerling, K., A. N. Swanson, et al. (2010). “Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of modafinil for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence.” Drug Alcohol Depend 2010 June 1; 109(1-3): 20–29. PMCID: PMC2875545


CBAM is a multidisciplinary center that seeks to advance the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses, especially in communities with health disparities. As part of the UCLA Department of Family Medicine, CBAM works at the intersection of academia and community with a focus on treating addictions and preventing the spread of HIV.

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