BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: cocaine

Cocaine’s Abuse on the Body: How Far Does it Go?

Cocaine powder on black table | 🇩🇪Professional Photographe… | FlickrCocaine pictured above

When it comes to cocaine, there is a long list of the drastic. negative effects it has on the human body–not only physically, but mentally as well. When we see major celebrities such as Mac Miller, Don Rogers, and Whitney Houston pass from a cocaine overdose, what do you think plays a part in it?

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug, which first arose in the US in the late 1800s. It can be snorted, injected, rubbed in one’s mouth, and smoked. It is made from the coca plant of South America. It raises our dopamine levels which cause us to feel joy and relief, however, it damages the natural communication cycle in our brain, leading people to take highter and more frequent doses in an attempt to achieve the same high as when they first began using.

Effect of cocaine on our bodies

Short-term health effects of cocaine include, but are not limited to:

  • extreme happiness and energy
  • mental alertness
  • hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch irritability
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Some long-term effects of cocaine abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • headaches
  • extreme weight loss
  • cardiac complications such as irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • loss of smell/olfactory function
  • mood swings
  • movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease
  • paranoia
  • auditory hallucinations
  • irregular heartbeat
  • death by overdose
On a cellular level…

Once in our system, cocaine rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to various plasma membrane transporters on neurons. Neurons are the main focus here, as our brains are comprised of 3 to 6 layers. What are they? They are “the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system, the cells responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world, for sending motor commands to our muscles, and for transforming and relaying the electrical signals at every step in-between” (Queensland Brain Institute). Neurons contain cytoplasm, mitochondria and other organelles. Neurons carry out basic cellular processes such as protein synthesis and energy production. Regarding basic cell types and structure, neurons have a cell body comprised of a nucleus and cytoplasm, and also have a mitochondria. The nucleus produces ribosomes which are involved in protein production. The cytoplasm acts as a suspension medium for organelles, and the mitochondria is involved in complex processes of neurotransmission. Overall, this cell body is essential to the neuron’s function as it carries genetic information, maintains the neuron’s structure, and provides energy to drive important cellular activities.

File:Blausen 0657 MultipolarNeuron.png - Wikimedia CommonsNeuron structure pictured

Or, to put it very simply, cocaine alters our brains and DNA in a complex manner, relating to several neurotransmitter systems, leading to seizures and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as the more mild symptoms listed above.

Crack and cocaine users: are they bad?

Yes, crack and cocaine use is objectively terrible. They can alter our behavior, emotions, physical abilities, and our future children in drastic ways. However, it is important not to villainize those suffering from substance abuse. Rather, we should focus on what causes these people to turn to drugs. Systemic racism plays a large role in who uses and is distributed crack/cocaine. Lack of access to mental healthcare is yet another factor. As a society, we need to do better and be aware of all these things. If you or someone you know may be susceptible or vulnerable to drug abuse, please contact the Substance Abuse National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

 

 

 

Cocaine Addiction is Curable

University of Chicago researchers have made groundbreaking discoveries in the CRISPR field. Following malaria resistant mosquitoes and heat resistant cows, we are well on our way to creating cocaine-resistant mice. Scientists Xiaoyang Wu and Ming Xu teamed up to create a piece of technology that utilized the human body’s natural ability to break down cocaine, using an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase, or “BCHE”.

After learning of BCHE, one may wonder, “why do people get addicted to cocaine if the human body makes an enzyme specifically to break it down?” In reality, “its short half-life makes it ineffective in a clinical scenario, since it disappears before it has any long-term impact on the body’s response to cocaine.” Researchers Wu and Xu had to find a way to prolong its life span to allow it time enough to work, as well as increase its potency to combat the severe nature of addiction. The scientists used epidermal stem cells in the mice, and using CRISPR technology, converted them into “BChE-producing factories.” The BCHE is easily distributed into the blood through the skin cells, and resulted in the inhibition of the mice’s withdrawal symptoms, and even preventing death in the case of lethal doses.

Not only did the stem cells work, but the mice responded well- producing high levels of BCHE for over two months without a negative immune system reaction.

“Apparently, the enzyme broke down the drug before much, if any, of it could reach their brains.”

A graph of showing the rapid increase of cocaine-caused deaths in the USA from 2002-2017.

The idea of cocaine-resistant mice may seem oddly specific, but cocaine addiction is a serious problem that we as Americans face. According to Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Division, “cocaine is making a comeback in New York,”. It is a problem that we as Americans, and especially New Yorkers, will likely come into contact with some way or another. It doesn’t have to stop with one drug. While BCHE is unique to cocaine decomposition, there may be other enzymes that can similarly be implemented. The danger is this; if cocaine (or other drug) addiction is easily curable, who is to stop anyone from using it? Hopefully, the general public will have seen the aftereffects of cocaine addiction, and not use this new technology to excuse bad choices because they deem it less dangerous than before.

Hope for Cocaine Addicts?

Cocaine, known as “the caviar of street drugs”, is expensive and has “powerful, negative effects”. Roughly 25% of americans between the age of 24 and 36 use or have used cocaine. Despite the dangerous effects of cocaine, After marijuana and amphetamines, cocaine is considered to be the most widely available drug on high school and college campuses in the United States. In 2002, there were 212 hospital admissions for cocaine abuse per 100,000 residents aged 12 or older in New York. Because cocaine use is so prevalent, it is important to raise awareness and to help addicts stop using.

Image taken from WikiMedia

 

What happens when you snort cocaine?

The cocaine quickly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. In the brain, cocaine interferes with neurotransmitters. Cocaine blocks norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed. The resulting chemical buildup between nerves causes euphoria or feeling “high.”

 

 

Long term use of cocaine can prevent neurotransmitter to be released naturally in the brain. This means the only way to feel good is to do cocaine again. It is estimated that there are 200,000 people in the united states addicted to cocaine.

 

Stopping the use of cocaine is a painful and even harmful experience for addicts. However, recent studies have indicated that there may be a fast track to addiction recovery.In addicts, the drug compulsion can be blamed on a group of “sluggish neurons” that rely on drugs to be stimulated. In drug-addicted rats, the drug compulsion was eased by a laser stimulated those affected neurons.

This experiment seems to partially solve the issue of cocaine addiction. Laser therapy could make the withdrawal of cocaine a much more doable process. However, there is still part of the problem to address: relapse. Most previous addicts relapse when they are surrounded by users. this is because the sight of cocaine triggers the memory of the euphoric high they used to experience on cocaine.

 

Link to Main Article:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/349410/description/Light_found_in_cocaine_addiction_tunnel

Links to Additional Articles:

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/cocaine-use-and-its-effects

http://www.michaelshouse.com/cocaine-addiction/statistics/

Link to Photo:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Physiological_effects_of_Crack_cocaine.png

Why do only some COCAINE users become addicted?

The obvious precursor to cocaine addiction is cocaine use. However, some people are able to use cocaine on and off with out becoming addicted while others become afflicted by addiction very quickly. There has always been the theory that your personality can make you more prone to addictions and other “weak” decisions but recent studies go a step beyond that and link addiction to the structure of an individual’s brain.

The frontal lobe of the brain is associated with self-control. The size of the frontal lobe appears to indicate how susceptible an individual would be to cocaine addictions. A study done by scientists at the University of Cambridge compared the brains of casual cocaine users versus cocaine addicts. What they found was a noticeable difference in size of the frontal lobe: users had a larger frontal lobe while addicts had a smaller frontal lobe.

The scientists believe that the size difference was preexistent and  not a result of drug use because both groups were cocaine users. The main difference was that the mere users “could take it or leave it” due to their more powerful self control.

The brain is a popular subject when it comes to addictions due to the harm addictions can cause and due to the hope of a better understanding of addictions so that they can be “cured”. There are newly defined addictions more and more frequently, as addictions to food, caffeine, internet, and shopping become more and more prevalent.

Another example of increased susceptibility to addiction is the genetic or hereditary quality of alcoholism. “Though the exact mechanisms haven’t been identified, experts in alcoholism widely agree that some people are genetically vulnerable to developing the disorder.” Also, experts suggest that many people addicted opiates may have “deficiencies in their brain reward systems.”

Further studies exploring the links to the brain and addictions would be instrumental in curing the countless addictions that interfere with people’s quality of life.

 

Link to Main Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/science/brain-shape-may-play-role-in-cocaine-addiction.html?ref=science&_r=0

Link to additional articles:

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3076712/#.URBDX81RLzc http://www.time.com/time/interactive/0,31813,1640235,00.html

Link to the photo used:http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalarchives/4327205241/

 

 

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