The end of 19th century saw an increase in the number of people who abused cocaine, which is one of the oldest known drugs in the world. More than a century and hundreds of studies later, the scientific community has yet to conclusively explain what factors cause cocaine addictions and to identify the effects of cocaine on the brain. Renewed hope to find answers to these age old concern is presented by a new article written by a researcher from the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), Mc Gill University Centre, and the Mc Gill University. This paper is by Dr. Marco Leyton and was published the newest edition of the Biological Psychiatry.
In summary, the paper reveals an association between cocaine and the human brain’s reward circuits. It also points out that a person’s vulnerability to addiction is related to this association.
Specifically, Dr. Leyton’s study showed that cocaine use triggers high level secretions of dopamine in the brain’s central region known as the striatum. Dopamine, the article explained, is a neurotransmitter that is closely tied to the brain’s reward system as well as its response system to addictive drugs.
The study involved the participation of ten non-addicted cocaine users who made to sniff cocaine and placebo powder on two separate test days. The participants were also subjected to blood tests prior to and after taking both the drug and placebo. The level of dopamine secretions in their brains were then measured using PET scan technologies.
Dr. Leyton, in description of the findings of his study, explained that, “The ability of cocaine to activate dopamine release varies markedly from person to person. Our study suggests that this is related to how much of the drug the person consumed in the past. The more cocaine someone has used in his or her lifetime, the more the brain will secrete dopamine during subsequent cocaine use. It’s possible therefore that the intensity of the reward-circuit response is related to increased susceptibility to addiction.”
One limitation of this study, however, is that it fails to fully explain the mechanisms that cause the relationship between dopamine and cocaine use. It is still unclear if the stimulation of the brain’s reward system causes addiction or if it is the brain’s inherent sensitivity to addiction that leads the brain to secrete high levels of dopamine.
What the current study conclusively showed, on the other hand, is that there is indeed a relationship between the neurotransmitter dopamine and cocaine. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that dopamine is a potential target for drug addiction rehab and treatment.
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