Kicking the cocaine habit

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 7th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Talk about giving the war on drugs a shot in the arm. Scientists now have reason to believe a newly developed vaccine may be the first step toward helping addicts kick the cocaine habit.

According to a recently released study of one-hundred and fifteen cocaine-dependent people, the vaccine was only mildly effective in helping addicts curb their use. However, it does provide proof this approach may eventually work.

The vaccine works by prompting the immune system to create antibodies that prevent drug molecules from entering the brain and therefore prevent the user from feeling the typical drug high.

Cocaine’s addictive effects are believed to come from its ability to prevent brain cells from reabsorbing dopamine, a key component of the brain’s reward system.

For the study, scientists gave half of the participants the vaccine five times over a twelve-week period, while the remainder received a placebo. About forty percent of the fifty-five people who received the vaccine had a strong antibody response. During the time those antibodies were highest, those people used less cocaine than either the placebo group or those who didn’t produce as many antibodies.

Why didn’t all of the people who used the vaccine create antibodies? Scientists think they may have been using crack cocaine, which doesn’t provoke the same response.

Scientists say much more research is needed before any vaccine is distributed to the public. There are also questions about whether it would be practical because of the high number of booster shots needed. But researchers maintain it’s an encouraging first step to help a population desperately in need of a solution.