Scientists are constantly looking at and investigating different areas of the brain that the medical community knows little about. And in a new study, released by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows an interesting area of the brain that may be responsible for cocaine addiction. They found that an area of the brain that is responsible for appetite and alertness, may also be the same mechanism that promotes the urge to use cocaine.
Each part of the brain is responsible for certain functions necessary for life. The hypocretin/orexin (HCRT) system of the brain exists to ensure that a person is driven to eat enough and also stay alert. This same part of the brain may also be compelling cocaine addicts to continue to seek out the dangerous drug.
This phenomenon was discovered after researchers observed rats that were given access to cocaine and how their brain, specifically the HCRT system, reacted. They found that rats who had allowed to self-administer cocaine for an hour (a relatively short amount of time) did not have this part of the brain taking over. However, rats that were allowed to self-administer cocaine for six hours (a relatively long period of time) did display an overreaction of the HCRT. They then administered blocking medication designed to target this part of the brain. The rats who were exposed to cocaine did not have any reaction to the medication, but the rats that been using cocaine for six hours had a positive reaction. These rats stopped compulsively seeking cocaine.
Researchers are hopeful that this study will pave the way for some sort of medication that would target the HCRT system of the brain in long term cocaine addicts and allow them to get some relief from the compulsive drug-seeking behavior that is usually present.
“The results of this study would suggest that the hypocretin system could be considered a pharmacological target, with the hopes that a medication designed to target hypocretin receptors could be used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapies as part of a cocaine abuse treatment strategy,” explained Dr. Schmeichel, lead author of the study.