Entries in Cocaine (5)


Appetite for Food, Cocaine Linked to Same Spot in Brains of Mice

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- In the global fight against obesity, scientists have become particularly interested in the parts of the brain that make us want to eat, and sometimes to eat too much.

Many researchers have noted that hunger and satiety stimulate the brain's reward system. But scientists at Yale University have discovered that the same brain cells behind hunger drive another circuit of reward, the one stimulated by highly addictive drugs like cocaine.

The drive to eat lies in a couple hundred brain cells, called neurons, in the hypothalamus, a tiny structure at the very center of the brain.

"In order for you to feel hungry, these neurons have to be active," said Tamas Horvath, one of the authors of the study published Sunday.

Horvath and his colleagues found that when these brain cells were made to be inactive in the brains of mice, the mice became far less interested in food and became leaner. But at the same time, they became more interested in exploring new environments and they became very interested in cocaine.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggest that in mice, and possibly in humans, there is an overlap between addiction and obesity in the brain. But perhaps not in the way many scientists may have thought.

Researchers studying the root of obesity in the brain have suggested that the brain's reward system, which gets jazzed by actions like eating, is less active in animals and people who are obese, meaning they eat more in order to satisfy those brain cells.

But Horvath said his findings suggest the opposite.

"If you make these [brain cells] less active, you're less interested in food, you're leaner, and more interested in novelty and when provided the opportunity for cocaine, you're very interested in cocaine," he said.

So far, the findings apply only to mice, and only more research can show if they apply to humans.

Scott Sternson, who studies the neurological processes behind hunger at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said the findings are unexpected and mean that scientists need to think more carefully about the wiring of the brain's reward system when it comes to food.

Dr. Deborah Mash, a professor of neurology and pharmacology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, said the findings shake up the current thinking about drug addiction in the brain. Typically, scientists don't consider the bundle of hunger-driving brain cells in the hypothalamus as a part of the system that gets hooked on drugs like cocaine.

"We really don't understand the rules of this system yet," Mash said. "If we could begin to see how the circuitry is disregulated in addiction, we may be able to come up with a druggable target" for treating cocaine addiction.

Mash, who studies the brains of cocaine addicts after their deaths, said the study also highlights some intriguing parallels in human drug addicts.

"Most cocaine-addicted individuals are very thin. When people come off of cocaine, they eat and eat and eat," she said.

Horvath said he will continue to study the overlap between hunger and addiction in the brain, and he hopes that other scientists will consider how even the most fundamental structures of the brain can influence complex behaviors.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Cocaine Contributed to Whitney Houston's Death

ABC/ Ida Mae Astute(NEW YORK) -- In an infamous 2002 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, pop icon Whitney Houston candidly spoke about her abuse of drugs such as cocaine, which, along with heart disease, factored into her accidental drowning last month, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.

"It has been [alcohol, marijuana, pills, cocaine] at times," Houston told Sawyer in the frank 2002 interview that delved headlong into her addiction struggles.  "Nobody makes me do anything I don't want to do.  It's my decision; the biggest devil is me.  I'm my best friend and my worst enemy."

In a statement to ABC News Thursday, the Los Angeles County Coroner's chief, Craig Harvey, outlined the findings in the office's preliminary toxicology report.

"We had approximately a 60 percent occlusion in the arteries, in the narrowing of the arteries," Harvey said.  "So, that condition, complicated by the chronic cocaine use, all combined to result in her drowning.  The final cause of death has been established as drowning due to atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use."

Atherosclerotic heart disease is a build-up of plaque that narrows the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, according to the National Institutes of Health.  It is not known how long the singer had the condition.

Despite the coroner's announcement, questions remain about the nature of the pop star's death after she was found "underwater and unconscious" in the bathtub in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 11.  It is still unclear how much her chronic drug abuse contributed to her death at 48, and whether she was already incapacitated when she drowned.

Dr. Michael Fishbein of the UCLA Medical Center, who spoke with ABC News regarding the coroner's office report, explained the short- and long-term effects that cocaine has on the heart, and speculated about what might have happened in Houston's final moments.

"The immediate effect of cocaine is that it interferes with the electrical system of the heart," Fishbein said.  "An analogy might be a swimming pool pump.  You can have a perfectly good pump, but if you cut the electrical cord, the pump stops working.  If the heart stops pumping blood, and all the organs are deprived of oxygen.  The tissue dies and the person dies."

Cocaine also increases the demand for oxygen, as it increases heart rate and blood pressure.

"The long-term effect is that cocaine causes the heart to be enlarged, which increases the risk of sudden death," Fishbein said.  "It also causes scarring in the heart, which increases the risk of a sudden cardiac death, and it causes accelerated atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries, which we associate with high blood pressure and smoking."

When occlusion in the arteries reaches 75 percent narrowing, it is typically considered dangerous, but, Fishbein says, 60 percent occlusion for a woman of 48 is above average.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


200 Million People Use Illicit Drugs, Study Finds

Doug Menuez/Thinkstock(SYDNEY) -- Roughly 200 million people worldwide use illicit drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and opioids each year, according to a new study. The figure represents about one in 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64.

Using a review of published studies, Australian researchers estimated that as many as 203 million people use marijuana, 56 million people use amphetamines including meth, 21 million people use cocaine and 21 million people use opioids like heroin. The use of all four drug classes was highest in developed countries.

“Intelligent policy responses to drug problems need better data for the prevalence of different types of illicit drug use and the harms that their use causes globally,” reads the report, published Friday in The Lancet. “This need is especially urgent in high-income countries with substantial rates of illicit drug use and in low-income and middle-income countries close to illicit drug production areas.”

The 200 million number does not include people who use ecstasy, hallucinogenic drugs, inhalants, benzodiazepines or anabolic steroids -- just one reason it’s likely a vast underestimate of illicit drug use, according to lead author Louisa Degenhardt of the Sydney-based National Drug and Alcohol Research Center.

“Drug use is often hidden, particularly when people fear the consequences of being discovered for using drugs, such as being imprisoned,” Degenhardt said in a press conference.

Up to 39 million people are considered “problematic” or dependent drug users and up to 21 million people inject drugs, according to the report.

“It’s likely that injectable drug users have increased,” said Degenhardt, adding that the practice, “is a major direct cause of HIV, hepatitis C and to some extent hepatitis B transmission globally.”  Cocaine, amphetamine and heroin can be injected either alone or in combination.

Illicit drugs can have dangerous health effects, including overdosing, accidental injury caused by intoxication, dependence and long-term organ damage. While they may not cause immediate death, they’re thought to shave 13 million years off the life spans of users worldwide, according to the report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


House Votes to Ban Fake Marijuana, Fake Cocaine

George Doyle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The House Thursday voted to ban a variety of synthetic drugs, including "spice," and "bath salts," that had previously been sold legally in stores throughout the country.

The Synthetic Drug Control Act would add over 30 synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana and cocaine to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, making them illegal to manufacture or dispense. It would also grant the Drug Enforcement Agency more authority to place temporary bans on potentially dangerous drugs as they are investigated.

The bill passed by a vote of 317-98; some Democrats argued the law would make it harder for scientists to obtain needed chemicals for medical research.

An ABC News investigation that aired on "20/20" earlier this year found that spice and bath salts, despite being linked to multiple deaths, were being sold to teenagers across the country with little to no oversight.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who introduced the bill, said in a statement Thursday that he was shocked when he first learned that these drugs were being sold legally in stores and online.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Rep. Dent said he is "hopeful" it will be passed quickly.

"I am confident banning the sale of dangerous synthetic drugs will help save lives in communities across the United States," said Dent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Cocaine Laced with Veterinary Drug Eats Away at Flesh

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cocaine mixed with the veterinary drug levamisole could be the culprit in a flurry of flesh-eating disease in New York and Los Angeles.

The drug, used to deworm cattle, pigs, and sheep, can rot the skin off noses, ears, and cheeks.  And over 80 percent of the country's coke supply contains it.

"It's probably quite a big problem, and we just don't know yet how big a problem it really is," said Dr. Noah Craft, a dermatologist with Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

In a case study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Craft describes six cocaine users recently plagued by the dark purple patches of dying flesh.  And while they happened to hail from the country's coastlines, the problem is national.

"It's important for people to know it's not just in New York and L.A.  It's in the cocaine supply of the entire U.S.," Craft said.

Craft is one of several doctors across the country who have linked the rotting skin to tainted coke.  The gruesome wounds surface days after a drug user triest the tainted coke because of an immune reaction that attacks the blood vessels supplying the skin.  Without blood, the skin starves and suffocates.

Eighty-two percent of seized cocaine contains levamisole, according to an April 2011 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  Why dealers would stretch their stash with levamisole instead of the more traditional fillers, like baking soda, is unclear, although studies in rats suggest the drug acts on the same brain receptors as cocaine.  Therfore, it might be added to enhance or extend the cocaine's euphoric effects on the cheap.

Despite the widespread contamination, not all of the country's cocaine users experience the flesh-rotting reaction.  It appears that some are more vulnerable to the tainted cocaine's effects.

Once the drug is cleared from the body, the wounds do heal, leaving behind a shiny scar.

And as if rotting skin wasn't enough, levamisole also prevents the bone marrow from producing infection-fighting white blood cells.

"It's a little bit like having HIV," said Craft, adding that without medical attention, the condition can be fatal.  "About 10 percent of those patients will die from severe infections. They may be walking around like a time bomb."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio