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Cocaine Vaccine: A New Hope for Addiction Recovery?

Man splits cocaine into strips and then snorts. Narcotics concept.

According to experts at the United Nations, the use of cocaine has reached an all-time high.

It is estimated that approximately 22 million individuals consumed the drug in 2021. That exceeds the population of the US state of New York.

Cocaine is a widely used street drug in Europe, ranking second in popularity after cannabis. The substance derived from coca leaves is commonly used by snorting it in powder form.

This substance is extremely habit-forming and has the potential to harm vital organs. Using cocaine can put a significant strain on the body, causing physical effects that are comparable to the exertion of running a marathon. Withdrawal can be a challenging experience, both physically and mentally.

Researchers in Brazil are working on a potential solution to help individuals grappling with cocaine addiction. They are developing a vaccine that aims to prevent users from experiencing the euphoric effects of the drug, ultimately reducing the likelihood of addiction.

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain and Body?

When cocaine is ingested through the nose or smoked using a pipe, it rapidly enters the brain through the bloodstream.

In that case, the drug triggers the body to produce a range of messenger substances, such as dopamine. The overall feeling is one of extreme happiness.

The body becomes excessively active and easily irritated. The heart is working at its maximum capacity, causing the arteries to constrict. There is an increase in blood pressure and body temperature. Desires such as hunger and thirst become insignificant. In the most severe instances, the use of cocaine can result in convulsions or cardiac arrest.

The duration of the high can range from five to thirty minutes.

“It’s as if all the traffic lights turn green,” remarked Hanspeter Eckert, a therapist affiliated with a drug therapy association in Berlin.

The brain craves more. Eckert explained that the body stores the experience as being crucial for survival.

When someone becomes addicted, their thoughts are consumed by an overwhelming craving for more cocaine. The inner voices that warn you of the consequences become less audible.

You may find yourself unintentionally overlooking certain areas of your life that used to hold great significance, such as your well-being, social connections, and professional commitments.

How Would Vaccines Help?

The researchers in Brazil aim to develop a vaccine that stimulates the body to produce antibodies that can effectively bind to the drug upon consumption. This would hinder the substance from easily crossing the blood-brain barrier.

In order for the brain to be stimulated and for the user to experience a high, it is crucial that the cocaine is able to reach the brain. And those brain reactions that trigger cravings cease.

According to Frederico Garcia, a researcher involved in the development of the vaccine at Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais, the patient’s perception of the drug varies.

Garcia’s research team has conducted trials of the vaccine on rats. They believe that the findings from these experiments may have implications for humans. If that’s the case, their vaccine would be the first of its kind in the world, targeting cocaine addiction.

Scientists in the US are currently working on the development of a vaccine for cocaine.

There are ongoing clinical trials involving humans, but it is currently unclear when or if either vaccine will be made accessible.

Can Vaccines Prevent Addiction?

Eckert is open to the idea of vaccine research: According to him, when there is no intoxication, the mind can find relaxation and the body can alleviate the constant irritation caused by addiction.

However, Eckert expressed doubts about it as well. Therapy can be challenging, he explained, and individuals typically require a minimum of one year of treatment to facilitate healing. During this time, they engage in self-reflection and gain a deeper understanding of their physical and mental well-being. They have the opportunity to openly discuss their emotions and challenges, ultimately finding the strength to make tough choices.

According to Eckert, patients can regain control of their lives by facing difficult questions, such as whether there are friends they should avoid and how they will cope with the physical pain of withdrawal.

The vaccine is not recommended for individuals who do not require it on a regular basis.

Does a Cocaine Vaccination Enhance Overdose Risk?

Eckert cautions that individuals who have received the vaccine may face an increased risk of cocaine overdose. If the drug no longer has the same effect as before, some individuals might be tempted to increase their dosage. However, this can be extremely dangerous as it can overwhelm the body and potentially lead to cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Marica Ferri from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction expressed additional concerns, stating that the substance in question is not the only issue at hand.

Simply ceasing cocaine consumption does not guarantee the resolution of all personal issues. It is crucial to address both the physical and mental toll of addiction in order to facilitate healing.

“That takes time,” Ferri remarked, expressing hope for the availability of additional therapy spots to support individuals grappling with addiction.

According to Ferri, a vaccination would only be appropriate for a limited group of individuals who are already undergoing therapy. For individuals struggling with addiction and lacking access to counseling, there would be no discernible benefit.


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