Cigarettes Shown To Be A ‘Gateway Drug’ For Cocaine Addiction

November 4, 2011

The argument over whether cigarettes provide an entrance into the use of harder drugs has been raging for years. Some people believe there is something biologically about smoking that provides a gateway for someone to become more susceptible to addiction to other drugs. While other people say that the disproportionate amount of drug addicts that have smoked has to do with the risk taking aspect of addiction. In other words, someone who is willing to try smoking is more likely to try other drugs than someone who doesn’t smoke.

The ‘gateway drug’ theory has had little to no scientific evidence to back it up. That is until now. Columbia University researchers, including Dr. Eric Kandel – a Nobel laureate, have found the first physiological evidence that smoking cigarettes primes an individual for cocaine addiction.

How the Team Uncovered Proof Nicotine Enhances Cocaine’s Effects

The research team used three groups of mice to help them investigate the link between cigarette and harder drug addiction. One group of mice was given nicotine for many days, another group was given nicotine for one day and the final group received no nicotine. All the groups then received multiple doses of cocaine. The scientists watched the behavior of the mice and discovered the ones who had received long-term nicotine before getting cocaine returned to the place they had received the cocaine at almost twice the rate than the mice that had received nicotine for the short-term.

Upon dissecting the reward center of the mice’s brain, the pathways associated with cocaine addiction had been triggered more often in the mice that had received the most nicotine prior to cocaine. This is an indication that nicotine increases the pleasure received from cocaine use. Then the researchers discovered that FosB, which is a DNA sequence involved in strengthening addiction, was found in amounts nearly 75 percent higher for those who had received consistent nicotine than those mice that did not.

The nicotine had this effect by changing the chemicals involved in packaging the genetic material.

Opportunities For Further Research and Application of the Research Team’s Results

Both alcohol and marijuana have been theorized to also be gateway drugs and these findings open up the door for further research into the impact these substances have on addiction to other illicit drugs. Also this research can be important in developing better interventions for drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. Potential medications to help in the recovery of drug addiction may be possible from the results of studies in this area.

Do you think one day from this type of research and an addict will be able to take a pill to either control or stop their addiction? Or do you think addiction is more than just the body’s physical attachment to the drug? Let us know your thoughts below.

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