Cocaine Makes Your Brain Eat Brains

Researchers autopsied brain cells killed by drug
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2016 5:51 AM CST
Cocaine Makes Your Brain Eat Brains
Bags of seized cocaine sit before they're incinerated at a police base in Lima, Peru.   (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Much like rampaging zombies, brain cells on cocaine can't stop eating brains, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Scientists already knew that the drug killed brain cells, but "autopsies" on the dead brain cells of mice given '70s-rock-star levels of cocaine revealed that the cells had been killed when autophagy—the process by which cells absorb unwanted debris—went completely out of control and the cells began devouring vital parts of themselves, the Guardian reports. The same effect was seen in the babies of mice given large amounts of cocaine while pregnant.

"A cell is like a household that is constantly generating trash," the paper's lead author, neuroscientist Prasun Guha, explains in a press release. "Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash—it's usually a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell." ITV reports that the researchers found a possible antidote, an experimental drug called CGP3466B that's been tested to treat diseases like Parkinson's, though they say that there will have to be a lot more research on humans before it could be considered for use reducing the damage from cocaine use. (Tests on pipes from Shakespeare's garden suggest that the Bard smoked more than tobacco.)

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