Exercise combined with methamphetamine can help meth addicts recover, researchers said. The study published Wednesday in the FASEB Journal focused on the disturbances in the circadian rhythm of addicts.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo in New York said methamphetamine and exercise target those reward centers in the brain, which are also involved in the maintenance of the circadian rhythms.

“Our experiments show that it might be possible to use methamphetamine to treat meth addiction itself by associating drug usage with a stimuli that’s not harmful: exercise,” the study’s co-author Oliver Rawashdeh said in a statement.

Meth addiction upsets the circadian rhythm increasing craving for the drug and making the chances of relapse more likely. Researchers studied mice whose suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) was removed. The SCN is a small region in the brain’s hypothalamus, which is the body’s master circadian clock. Disturbances in metabolism and circadian rhythms during addiction are similar to those that animals experience when the SCN is removed, the scientists said.

The SCN loses contact with the “slave” oscillators that control it. One of these oscillators is the methamphetamine-sensitive circadian oscillator (MASCO). Scientists found that exercise and a dose of methamphetamine can restore the circadian rhythm in mice and provides feedback to the newly activated circadian clock, which the scientists believe could be the MASCO.

“Our idea was that if you pair a reward, in this case access to the running wheel, along with methamphetamine in 24-hour intervals over a period of time, the animal’s fragmented sleep/wake cycles would acclimatize to the 24-hour cycles, a process we call entrainment and consolidation,” Rawashdeh said.

He added that the re-established circadian rhythm remains even after access to methamphetamine is cut.

“We created a new homeostatic state,” Rawashdeh said. “By using the principles of learning and memory, we may have rewired the brain’s circuitry, activating a new clock — a form of plasticity — using the same stimulus that caused addiction in the first place, methamphetamine. This was necessary in order to transfer the euphoric and pleasurable characteristics associated with the drug over to a healthy stimulus — exercise.”

Researchers said exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons, which help in restoring the circadian clock. This study, they said, could help in drug rehabilitation, decrease the chances of relapse and re-establish the circadian rhythm.