The problem of cocaine abuse has massively affected the world. An extremely potent and addictive stimulant used for increasing the level of alertness and energy, cocaine is one of the oldest known psychoactive substances in the world. Repeated exposure to cocaine leads to the acclimatization of the brain to its repercussions.
By escalating the level of dopamine in the areas of the brain responsible for controlling pleasure, cocaine abuse further weakens the reward pathways. With continued use, a person may develop tolerance toward cocaine. As a result, he or she will need stronger and higher doses to experience the previous level of pleasure. The stronger doses of cocaine inflict long-term changes in the brain chemistry.
Cocaine-induced autophagy makes brain cells eat other cells
After identifying the crippling effects of cocaine, it was found that alcohol is not the only substance that kills the brain cells through the process of overactive autophagy. The process of overactive autophagy lead the cells to literally digest their own insides. In a study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, it was highlighted that the high doses of cocaine lead the brain cells in mice to cannibalize themselves. The process even occurred in infant mice whose mothers received cocaine during pregnancy.
In 1990, scientists discovered that brain cells use nitric oxide gas to communicate. After this landmark finding, Solomon Snyder, M.D., professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his team spent many years trying to analyze the impact of nitric oxide.
In 2013, they discovered that nitric oxide is responsible for cocaine-induced cell death due to its interactions with the enzyme glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH). However, the team failed to learn how prominently the cells were dying. To find out the reason, the research team started analyzing the nerve cells of mice as evidence. Snyder stated that cells, like whole animals, can die due to extreme temperatures, toxins and physical trauma, as well as commit suicide in three different ways that are chemically programmed and controlled by different proteins. One of the ways the cells commit suicide is autophagy.
Autophagy is a normal but an important cleanup process of the cells that gets rid of debris collected in membrane-enclosed vacuoles or ‘bags’ within the cell. Furthermore, these bags intermingle with other enzyme-rich lysosomes filled with acids that degrade the contents of the vacuoles. When this process increases and changes in an uncontrollable way, it causes the death of cells.
The changes in the levels of a protein that controls each cell death program and in the cells’ structure, the team found a distinct connection between cocaine use and neuronal cell death through out-of-control autophagy.
According to Prasun Guha, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the paper, “A cell is like a household that is constantly generating trash. Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash, it is usually a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell.”
As a remedy, the team tested the ability of the compound CGP3466B responsible for disrupting nitric oxide/GAPDH interactions. Post analyzing all the compounds and chemicals, it was found that only CGP3466B can protect the nerve cells of mice from death by cocaine.
Previous studies from the team illustrated that CGP3466B was also able to rescue the brain cells of live mice from the deadly effects of cocaine, but they had not connected the phenomenon to autophagy. When researchers gave mice a single dose of cocaine and looked for the signs of autophagy in their brain cells, they detected autophagy-associated proteins and changes in vacuoles in adults and mouse pups whose mothers had received cocaine during pregnancy.
Detox – The first step to an addiction-free life
Detox is the first step to recovery from addiction to any kind of substance like alcohol, drugs, etc. Substances of any kind are known to produce a number of health consequences, including overdose and death in severe circumstances. Besides detoxification, it is important to seek professional support in order to ensure holistic treatment.
If you or your loved one has developed an addiction to cocaine, contact the California Detox Helpline to access the finest addiction treatment centers in California that specialize in delivering holistic treatment based on the evidence-based intervention plans. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-780-2495 or chat online with our experts to know more about the detox and rehab centers in California.