goin’ round my brain (figuratively, speaking).

Been doing research. Recent Scripps paper came out with their findings about vulnerability to cocaine addiction.

Here’s my rendition: Their research has to do with this protein MeCP2 and it’s relationship with this gene, MiRNA-212. When a person does cocaine, both of these go up. They fight each other.  The bad guy, MeCP2, makes you want to take more cocaine. The good guy, MiRNA-212, tries to protect you.

What the Scripps researchers did, was manufacture a very specific virus that only attacks MeCP2, and infected the rats that they were testing with that virus. Be clear here, the virus did not hurt the rats. It only went after the MeCP2. They told me that twice.

When the virus knocked down the MeCP2, the MiRNA-212 went into overdrive and became abundant, and the rats were not interested in taking any more cocaine.

Well, that’s the gist of the research. What they are trying to do is figure out how it all works, so that they can create medicines that might block the cravings for cocaine.

But I had to learn more, so I went to the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) site. I learned that we have these pleasure centers in our brains — these places that manufacture rewards for us, where we get hits of dopamine and serotonin. The reason our bodies do that is to  motivate us to do stuff. We do the stuff, we get those good feelings. I guess it’s kind of an evolutionary thing that helps us survive.

You remember those old commercials about the fried egg and, “this is how your brain looks on drugs”? Well, NIDA has other pictures (text for this is here.)

Cocaine concentrates in the parts of the brain that are rich in dopamine synapses, the VTA, the nucleus accumbens and the caudate nucleus.

What I was told today by Dr. Robert Weiner, director of assessments, SeaSide Palm Beach: “Cocaine goes directly to the pleasure centers. Other drugs (and alcohol) go the cortex first, where you think.

“Alcoholics will say alcohol is their best friend. Cocaine addicts will call cocaine their lover.”

It’s an amazing high, confirms Stephen Gumley, director of program development at Recovery Resources. “I’d have to spend a thousand bucks and take my girl to Paris for a high like that. And a hit of cocaine costs about $50, in the beginning.

“It’s a very attractive drug.”

What you see in the picture above are the transmitting neuron above and the receiving neuron with dopamine receivers, below. What happens is that cocaine (the little white  stars) binds to the intake pump (the purple cup-like thing on the above neuron’s side), which prevents the dopamine (the little orangy balls) from leaving the synapse (the space in between the two neurons). This results in more dopamine in the synapse. Go here for more photos

With all that dopamine, we feel great — smart, slim and sexy, but not for long.

In the process of all this, all that dopamine flying around gets trapped, because the uptakes are blocked. The dopamine system heavily relies on recycling. So, eventually  the body stops producing dopamine and it gets used up. Bummer.

Eventually, a cocaine addict may seek help.

There aren’t any drugs to block the craving. Not yet. He or she will spend time at a treatment facility, away from the drug and anything that reminds him or her of the drug.

“We remove them from the environment,” Gumley explains. “They don’t have the ability to survive.”

After leaving the treatment facility, they continue to go to AA or NA, giving them some support to stay away from the drug…

Not an easy road to hoe, but doable.

“I’ve created a term for the way I see things,” Gumley said. “Cocaine addicts create a neural trench that reconditions the brain pathways through continuous use of the drug, much like the way you wear down a beaten path.

“The more you tread, the deeper the path, and even if you stop using it, it takes a long time to fill in and return to normalcy.”

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