Cocaine is a very potent drug that affects the CNS or the central nervous system. Prepared from the leaves of a bush called Erythroxylon coca which is a native of Peru and Bolivia, it can be self administered in a number of ways. It is most commonly ingested by snorting it into the nasal passage. It can also be smoked in the form of crack cocaine which shows a faster affect on the person smoking it. This is commonly known as snow flake, pow, snow, coke, nose candy, Bulgarian marching powder, blow or just C among cocaine addicts.
It is known to produce a wide spectrum of physiological and psychological effects in humans; the most noticeable of all, being stimulation of mood and emotions. People high on cocaine become highly active physically displaying tremors and tics, become more talkative and may have a feeling of alertness and strength. This euphoric feeling of high is usually succeeded by paranoia, restlessness, anxiety and depression the following day aka the ‘come down’.
The extent of damage caused to the brain depends upon the length of time for which the person had been taking cocaine.
Effects on the brain
Cocaine works by hindering the carriage of a neurotransmitter called dopamine to the brain. As soon as cocaine reaches the brain through the blood stream, it starts either blocking or occupying the dopamine transporter sites in the neurons or the brain cells. This restricts the reuptake of dopamine by the dopamine releasing neurons thereby allowing it to remain in the synapse, i.e. the structure that permits one neuron to send signals to the other. This presence of dopamine in the synapse for a long time causes the feeling of being high’ often associated with it. Dopamine is related to many functions in the brain such as learning, attention, movement etc. and its extended presence affects the parts of the brain that control these functions.
Cocaine Addiction and Brain Damage
The human brain is the most complex organ in the human body. When you introduce chemicals alien to the brain, the fine tuning of the brains’ chemical eco-system can become unbalanced. Research has revealed that long term cocaine use can affect the symbiotic nature of how the brain controls various neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, basically the mood enhancing bio-chemicals that control ones mood no less.
The extent of damage caused to these neurotransmitters within the brain depends upon the length of time the person had been taking cocaine. It is also a function of the amount of cocaine that the person ingests. A person who has had a long period of sobriety may have a relapse and there are huge chances that the mere thought of the experience’ which an individual had while he or she was on cocaine triggers a very strong urge to relapse. Such a tendency is an indication that damage has occurred to the part of the brain that makes decisions or regulates mood i.e. the frontal lobes.
With continued cocaine addiction, the brain may also forget how to receive dopamine on its own. Due to this, the user may stop enjoying earthly pleasures around him or her and slip into a numb world devoid of pleasure and possibly building a cocoon around him or her. This usually occurs in the early stages of addiction when the tolerance to cocaine starts developing. This is because the brain essentially becomes so used to functioning under the umbrella of the effects of the drug that it stops functioning on its own. However, it must be noted that the brain does not work well with the drug either due to dopamine restriction as mentioned earlier. The postsynaptic membrane can even adapt so much to these high dopamine levels that it actually manufactures new receptors.
Certain parts of the brain can get seriously affected by the continued use of the drug and the damage gets magnified exponentially with time and use. Since cocaine is usually consumed in large quantities in a short time frame, or, over a period of time in such quantity, it invariably causes serious physiological and psychological disorders over time. It goes without saying that more binging on cocaine causes more damage to the central nervous system and reduces the brains ability to produce effective levels of serotonin and dopamine . For more on effects of cocaine on brain read the study conducted at Boston University School of Medicine, Division of Psychiatry, Laboratory of Behavioral Pharmacology. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0006899381901773).
In chronic cases of cocaine dependency, the brain of the consumer becomes over-reliant on the exogenous drug to keep up the same degree of pleasure brought about by artificially elevated levels of a few neurotransmitters. The synaptic membrane also gets so adapted to the raised levels of dopamine that it starts developing its own receptors resulting in an increased sensitivity thereby producing depression and cravings when the levels of dopamine fall to normal. According to a press release by University of California at San Francisco, cocaine had lead to growth of new brain structures in mice similar to the receptors that human synapse grows. http://www.galloresearch.org/news-mouse-brain-growth.htm refers.