Aims To evaluate the efficacy of central nervous system (CNS) stimulants compared with placebo for the treatment of cocaine dependence.
Methods A systematic review and meta-analysis was carried out. Bibliographic databases were searched, reference lists of retrieved studies were hand-searched and the first authors of each study were contacted. All randomized controlled clinical trials (RCCT) comparing the efficacy of any CNS stimulant with placebo in cocaine-dependent patients were included. Quantitative data synthesis was performed for each single CNS stimulant and for all CNS stimulants.
Results Nine RCCT met the inclusion criteria. These RCCT included 640 patients and compared five CNS stimulants: mazindol, dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate, modafinil and bupropion with placebo. No CNS stimulant improved study retention [RR = 0.94 (0.81–1.09)] or cocaine use [RR = 0.90 (0.79–1.02)]. An exploratory analysis using indirect estimations of cocaine use showed that the proportion of cocaine-positive urine screens was lower with dexamphetamine than with placebo [RR = 0.73 (0.60–0.90)] and that all CNS stimulants pooled together also suggested a significant decrease of cocaine use [RR = 0.87 (0.77–0.99)]. Data on craving could not be meta-analysed due to heterogeneity, but no RCCT found differences in cocaine craving between active drug and placebo except one, whose outcome favoured dexamphetamine. No serious adverse event (AE) was reported. Average of AE-induced dropouts was low and was greater for CNS stimulants than placebo: 4.4% versus 1.3% (P = 0.03).
Conclusion The main outcomes of this study do not support the use of CNS stimulants for cocaine dependence. Nevertheless, secondary analyses provide some hopeful results that encourage further research with these drugs, mainly with dexamphetamine and modafinil.