A SCOTTISH university is in talks to launch a major new clinical trial of a controversial electrical brain therapy that promises to wean drug addicts off everything from heroin to nicotine with no cravings or side effects.

Neuro-electric therapy (N.E.T) was developed in the 1970s by Scottish missionary surgeon, Dr Meg Patterson, while she was working at a charity hospital in Hong Kong.

She made the chance discovery while trialling a Chinese technique of electro-acupuncture on patients who happened to be hooked on opium - although Dr Patterson did not know this, and the original experiments were not focused on addiction.

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However, the participants subsequently told Dr Patterson - who died at a Lesmahagow retirement home in 2002 following a stroke - that the treatment appeared to have wiped out their desire for the narcotic.

It led the Scot to devote the rest of her life to pioneering N.E.T and trying in vain to have it taken seriously by the medical establishment.

Now, as Scotland grapples with record drug deaths, a Scottish university - which cannot be named at present - is in discussions with NET Recovery Corp about testing the technology independently as a potential rehabilitation tool.

It already has type approval across the EU as a medical device, meaning it meets regulatory requirements and can be used commercially.

Owen Fielding, the Scotland-based director of clinical services for NET, which is headed up in the US by Dr Patterson’s son-in-law, Joe Winston, said: “We have had quite lengthy discussions with the NHS and the Scottish Government in the past and quite rightly they stated that there wasn’t enough current statistical peer reviewed data.

“We are rectifying that now by publishing some papers this summer and we’re engaged with a Scottish university. They’ve approached us about the possibility of a multi-site clinical trial.”

The treatment uses a device, only slightly larger than an MP3 player, with electrodes calibrated to send low-voltage electrical pulses into the brain.

The theory is that it works by accelerating the brain’s own natural repair process, enabling it to respond normally again to endorphins - the body’s stress and pain-relieving hormones - which is disrupted by long-term abuse of drugs such as opiates.

Former addicts who credit their recovery to N.E.T say it enabled them to kick their habit faster without experiencing the usual crippling effects of detox such as vomiting, diarrhoea, severe stomach cramps, restlessness and insomnia.

It also claims to reduce or eliminate cravings not only during treatment but also in the long-term, thus “giving back choice” to drug users who do not want to relapse.

Critics dub it pseudoscience, saying results in blinded control trials have been “mixed” or “no better than placebo”.

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However, rock stars including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Pete Townsend and Boy George are among N.E.T’s most high-profile advocates.

Richards said: “It’s so simple it’s not true. It’s a little metal box with leads that clip on to your ears and in two or three days - which is the worst period for kicking junk - it leaves your system.’’

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Robust clinical trials are a crucial part of developing any medical treatment. Given that this is not the case, it would be inappropriate for NHS Scotland to offer NET without sufficient evidence for its effectiveness.”

See tomorrow's Herald on Sunday as new documentary asks if N.E.T offers 'Final Fix' for US opioid epidemic