Cocaine Around My Brain

sung by Dave Van Ronk

In the middle of all the Cocaine research, I remembered this song, and so all that studying I’ve been doing has a back story, which often happens when I get into researching. It takes off in different directions, sometimes twists and turns. So, here’s a little twist.

Saw him sing that at the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth,  not too long before he died.

Van Ronk got the song from Reverend Gary Davis, who said he learned it in 1905  from a carnival musician, Porter Irving.

One of the people I interviewed about drug treatment for the story I’m working on, shared with me some of what he knew about the history of the drug, and its ups and downs.

Cocaine use has declined in recent years, and I asked him how come.

He said popularity for a particular drug goes in cycles. It will get a bad name and people will stop using it. Now, prescription opiates are the drug dejour, but that will change, eventually, too.

Drugs and alcohol have always been around. In 1863, Vin Mariani was a wine that had cocaine in it — it was endorsed by popes and physicians. Nobody said it tasted good. Sarah Bernhard used to say that Vin Mariani gave her strength.

In the 1900s, cocaine was in Coca Cola. Freud pushed cocaine. Some of his colleagues had problems with it. Frued said he kicked it. Lots of music was devoted to cocaine. In 1902, a pamphlet came out, “Eight Years in Cocaine Hell,” by Annie Meyers.

In 1906, we passed the Food and Drug Act, but before that, there was no such thing as a prescription in our country. In the early 1900s, that might have been the greatest period of addiction, but there were no social ramifications. People used to use laudium, everybody took it.

It was probably called something like Carrie’s Feel Good Tonic.

In the 1900s, the Chinese railroad workers were using opiates, but then other people started using opium. We passed the Harrison Act in 1914, which assoiciated drugs with crime, drugs on the street went up 500 percent because before that people didn’t have to steal to maintain a drug addiction.

It went out of fashion, and came back in with Easy Rider, Peter Fonda as Captain America and Dennis Hopper — they pulled off a cocaine deal and went around the country doing nothing and that’s when Cocaine started to  come back into the culture.

It was popular through the 1970s and 1980s, then John Belushi died, and John Delorean had troubles because of it, and it went out of fashion.


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.”