Cocaine blues: Drug triggers brain cell cannibalism

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New research suggests that high doses of cocaine can cause the brain to eat itself, according to The Daily Telegraph.

A study carried out by researchers at John Hopkins University found that cocaine can cause a process called “autophagy.” The Guardian explained that properly regulated autophagy removes unnecessary debris that is dissolved away by enzymes within cell “pockets.”

However, Dr. Prasun Guha, who led the study, explained autophagy by describing a cell as having parallels with as a household generating trash: While “autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash. Usually it’s a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell.

The test studied the effects of cocaine on mice. After performing postmortems on the mice, the scientists determined that the brains of mice given larger doses of cocaine showed clear signs of autophagy-induced cell death.

The test was also conducted on pregnant mice. The postmortems found the same evidence of autophagy in the brains of the mice born from the pregnant ones that received cocaine.

Cocaine doesn’t only harm the interior of your body, but has been found to damage the exterior as well. Another Telegraph report found that “four fifths of cocaine sold in Britain has been cut with veterinary dewormer,” which causes skin to rot.

The deworming agent, levamisole, ruptures blood cells and causes flesh to decay. However, The Telegraph found that there may be hope on the horizon.

Dr. Prasun Guha’s study tested an experimental drug called CGP3466B on mice exposed to cocaine. The drug has gone through clinical trials as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s, but it was found to also protect mouse nerve cells from “cocaine death due to autophagy.”