Cocaine originally comes from coca leaves, which are derived from a plant that’s native to South America. The effects of cocaine on the nervous system and brain were slowly realized as more and more people became addicted to it, and eventually, it became illegal. Nowadays, it’s known as a dangerous drug that can cause addiction and various other side effects. When it comes to cocaine brain damage, researchers are setting their sights on one specific question: does cocaine change the shape of brain cells?
Like most – if not all – other drugs, cocaine works by changing the way your nerve cells communicate in the brain. Nerve cells, or neurons, communicate with each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters that act as messengers. Neurotransmitters share their messages by attaching to receptors on neurons. When a person uses cocaine, this form of communication is disrupted.
A neurotransmitter that is greatly affected by drug abuse is dopamine. Dopamine controls the reward system in the brain and produces feelings of pleasure when a person does something they enjoy, like eating. Usually, this chemical is recycled back into the cell that released it so the signal shuts off. However, cocaine prevents dopamine from being recycled, causing a build-up of it in the brain. This flood of dopamine reinforces a person’s desire to use it and trains the brain to this behavior.
When used consistently, stimulants like crack cocaine can disrupt how the brain’s reward system functions and the balance of chemicals like dopamine. Eventually, long-term cocaine use reduces a person’s ability to find pleasure in doing anything else. People who become accustomed to using cocaine may develop a tolerance to it, which means they would have to use more of it to feel the side effects they experienced the first time they used it. At our Massachusetts drug treatment center, we know that tolerance, left untreated, leads to addiction.
Cocaine is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that can change a person’s life within a handful of uses. The long-term effects of cocaine on the brain can lead to several different health problems, including addiction. Chronic use also increases a person’s chances of overdosing and death. At Banyan Treatment Centers Massachusetts, we understand the dangers of cocaine and we offer effective cocaine addiction treatment in Wilmington that’s helped many patients recover from addiction. What coke does to your brain can lead to serious repercussions. If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine use, we can help.
Yes, cocaine can change the shape of your brain cells, and this change can cause behavioral changes as well. A study published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science shows that the neurological effects of cocaine include changes in brain cell shape.1 Another study conducted at John Hopkins University focused on whether these changes can affect behavior, and they did. The research found that not only can cocaine change the shape of brain cells in mice, but this change in brain cell shape can also cause behavioral changes. A brain cell’s shape is thought to play a role in its ability to communicate and connect with other cells. Researchers have found it difficult to test this theory because brain cell shape doesn’t settle until late adolescence (late teens early adulthood) and kids usually begin experimenting with drugs before then.2 Mice in the study who experienced changes in brain cell shape were severely impaired when given even the smallest amounts of cocaine.
But it doesn’t end there. A third study also conducted at John Hopkins University found that long-term cocaine abuse can actually cause brain cells to eat themselves. They performed this experiment on mice and found that cocaine triggers overactive autophagy, which is a process where cells digest their own insides.3 They also found that autophagy occurred in the brain cells of mice whose mothers were exposed to cocaine during pregnancy. Combined, these results prove that cocaine can change the shape of brain cells, resulting in behavioral changes as well.
Addiction is only one of the many long-term cocaine effects on the brain. If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, call Banyan Massachusetts now at 888-280-4763 to speak to a team member and learn more about our levels of care.