Baclofen, a promising compound for the treatment of alcoholism, may also stop people from stuttering, scientists have found out. These surprising effects were observed in a 61-year-old man who had been taking part in a clinical trial with the medicine.
His case is now described in the journal BMJ Case Reports. Concluding that baclofen can help stuttering patients based on this study alone is premature, but the results are promising and may lead to the development of larger clinical trials.
The use of baclofen to treat alcohol addiction is controversial. In his book "The End Of My Addiction", French cardiologist Olivier Ameisen described how he cured his alcoholism using baclofen but his claims were not everyone in the scientific community gave credit to his claims.
A muscle relaxant, baclofen has now been tested in both animals and humans to see if it could treat alcohol dependence, with positive results found both with low and high doses of the drug. However, other studies have been unable to replicate these findings.
"There has been a lot studies conducted in the past five years with baclofen and they have come up with very contradictory findings. This might be due to the fact that different populations were tested – with variation in the levels of alcohol dependence – but whether baclofen can really help against alcoholism remains unclear," lead author of the case report Esther Beraha Menahem (University of Amsterdam) told IBTimes UK.
2 to 3 litres of wine and a stutter
The discovery that baclofen could have a beneficial impact on stuttering occurred in the context of one such trial with baclofen.
An Irish participant aged 61 had been treated at an addiction treatment clinic in The Netherlands and was recruited as part of this study. He had a twenty-year history of a drinking problems and reported consuming between 2 and 3 litres of wine daily. He also had sleeping problem and a history of depression.
The scientists also noted that he had a stutter when he spoke – which he blamed on Dutch not being his first language.
During the double-blind placebo controlled trial the man's stutter disappeared – but it reappeared when he discontinued treatment at the end of the study. As it turned out, he had been given baclofen, and not a placebo. This suggests that baclofen could have played a role in stopping the participant from stuttering.
More research will be needed to confirm this association. "The next step could be to test baclofen in non-alcoholic population that stutters in an open study and then in a randomised controlled trial but for this, we will need funding," Beraha Menahem said.
In the meantime, the scientists have come up with different hypotheses to explain how baclofen may have acted on the man's stutter. The first is that baclofen is known to reduce anxiety – a factor in the development of stuttering.
The muscle relaxing properties of baclofen may also have helped, relaxing the muscles of the neck and respiratory system and thus helping people breathe and talk better. Finally, it's possible that the compound's effect on the dopamine system, as it reduces dopamine in the brain, could also have had a positive effect on stuttering.