Cocaine Impairs Brain Cell

Cocaine Impairs Brain Cell

A common myth is that cocaine is not addictive because it lacks the physical withdrawal symptoms seen in alcohol or heroin addiction. Cocaine has powerful psychological addictive properties. As more than one user has reflected, "If it is not addictive, then why can't I stop?" The trend in drug abuse in the United States is presently multiple or polydrug abuse, and cocaine is no exception. Cocaine is often used with alcohol, sedatives such as Valium, Ativan, or heroin, as an upper/downer combination. The other drug is also used to moderate the side effects of the primary addiction. A common polydrug abuse problem, seen especially in adolescents, is cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana.


Cocaine is presently the most abused major stimulant in America. It has recently become the drug most frequently involved in emergency department visits. It is not a new drug of abuse but is now considered the caviar of recreational drugs. Thus, this distinction is reflected in its description—champagne of drugs, gold dust, Cadillac of drugs, status stimulant, yuppie drug, and others. Street names for cocaine also reflect its appearance or method of use (such as flake, snow, toot, blow, nose candy, her, she, lady flake, liquid lady [a mixture of cocaine and alcohol], speedball [cocaine and heroin], crack, rock). And it can also express its method of preparation, such as freebase. It is more popularly known simply as coke.

Major effects that usually cause a cocaine abuser to go to an emergency department are severe headache, seizures, loss of consciousness that can be caused by not breathing or bleeding in the brain, stroke, hyperthermia (increased body temperature), coma, loss of vital support functions (such as low blood pressure, slow heart rate, slow respirations, and death).

The use of cocaine causes the alteration of responsiveness of the brain to various chemicals. These chemicals or neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, are responsible for most of the complications of cocaine.Lungs,ear, nose, and throat also effects by cocaine.

Recenty,a number of studies presented at the 36th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, being held this week in Atlanta, show that cocaine use negatively affects the functioning of neurons (cells located in the brain and spinal cord), primarily in the prefrontal cortex, but also in a number of other areas in the brain.

The result is a reduced ability to weigh benefits versus drawbacks, and to control behavior.

The prefrontal cortex is located in the frontal lobe of the brain. It is though to play a role in neuropsychological processes, such as orchestrating thoughts in accordance with actions, as well as other processes.

Dr. Rita Goldstein, of Brookhaven Laboratory in Upton, New York, and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess neuronal signaling in 16 cocaine addicts and 16 healthy subjects.

During fMRI, the subjects were asked to identify various amounts of money and rank them in order of value, or "reward."

"More than half of the addicts could not differentiate between values," Goldstein told Reuters Health in an interview before her presentation. The brain images showed a "disconnect," or a "conflict pattern in response to monetary rewards," she explained.

"There was a decreased response overall...in the prefrontal cortex," Goldstein added.

She noted that the prefrontal cortex is also the region in which impulse control occurs. An inability to distinguish between different values of money "means that this reward system can not be used to change behavior" in cocaine addiction.

"Although there is some improvement in function (in the prefrontal cortex) once the drug is removed, it never completely returns to normal," Goldstein said.

Goldstein plans to study what happens in the prefrontal cortex using non-drug reward systems, and whether the value of non-drug reward systems can be amplified to change addictive behavior. She acknowledges that it remains to be determined if it is even possible to use cognitive behavioral training to increase behavioral control and decrease impulsivity in these individuals.

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