Cocaine is one serious drug. New research shows that cocaine is essentially teaching the brain to like its effects. The University of California – San Francisco orchestrated the study, and has published the results in the journal, Nature Neuroscience.
The initial studies, conducted on rats have demonstrated that cocaine is triggering growth in the brain, and more specifically, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Apparently the chemicals used to make up cocaine are seducing the person’s mind, in a sense, to keep coming back for more in a way that makes it seem smart to continue using cocaine.
Within two hours of the drug’s use, researchers observed nerve cells, and what are called dendritic “spines”, become larger and denser. The rats who had the most growth were also found to have developed the strongest desire for more cocaine, as evidenced by the rats’ behaviors. The subjects who stayed in the area separated for cocaine dispensary were also the rats who had dendritic spine enlargement directly created by cocaine.
Details of the Rat Studies
The study’s subjects were put in an area that had two distinctive rooms. Each rat was given some time to pick room, which was used to indicate preference between the two. Each rat was then injected with cocaine in the other room; the room that was not chosen.
After a few injections, the rats were found to be spending more time in the room they had not chosen, the sight of the injection, instead of the room the rat had chosen by spending more time in before being exposed to cocaine. The study’s conductors are using these results as evidence that the brain in each rat has been altered by the drug, and the animal was seeking out more cocaine.
Can Cocaine Addiction Be Better Explained Now?
Cocaine is an addictive drug, and these research findings may be part of the explanation for why. The progression to cocaine addiction can be quick, which now makes sense when we learn that the brain is programmed to become addicted.
It appears that the additional spines created by cocaine, that would more commonly be created when a new skill or concept is being learned, are teaching the brain to like cocaine, and to continue using the drug.
Scientists believe that the study results can also explain why cocaine seems to negatively affect a user’s decision-making. With cocaine use, the brain is changed and is almost rendered helpless by such an alluring drug. The way a cocaine user is accustomed to making decisions may be impaired, so proper judgment and rational thought processes can seem “off”.
Linda Wilbrecht, a researcher at the University of California – Berkeley, told reporters her opinion on the study’s findings by saying, “This gives us a possible mechanism for how drug use fuels further drug-seeking behavior. It’s been observed that long-term drug users show decreased function in the frontal cortex in connection with mundane cues or tasks, and increased function in response to drug-related activity or information. This research suggests how the brains of drug users might shift toward those drug-related associations.”
Cocaine Addiction Treatment
This study, and more to follow, can help substance abuse treatment facilities better help those suffering in a cocaine addiction. With additional information, the mind, body, and soul of a cocaine addict can be addressed. If brain alteration has occurred, counselors and medical professionals can work together to assist the individual in the healing process from drugs and alcohol.