High doses of cocaine can attack brain cells, a study has revealed.

Scientists in the US have been carrying out tests on mice, giving the rodents cocaine and then analysing the effect on their brains. The academics at Baltimore’s John Hopkins University found that high doses caused the brain cells of mice to destroy themselves.

And where cocaine had been given to pregnant mice, they discovered brain damage in the baby mice after they were born.

The researchers found the class A drug caused autophagy – a process in which cells digest themselves. Autophagy is an essential process which helps keep cells clean but when high levels of cocaine were consumed, this spiralled out of control causing large numbers of brain cells to be destroyed.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help in the development of treatments which will prevent this brain damage taking place.

Dr Solomon Snyder, a neuroscience professor at John Hopkins’ School of Medicine, said: “We performed ‘autopsies’ to find out how cells die from high doses of cocaine. That information gave us immediate insight into how we might use a known compound to interfere with that process and prevent the damage.”

Research into developing antidote

The potential antidote is CGP3466B, a compound which has already been used in unsuccessful clinical trials to treat Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s disease. More research will now be carried out to see if the compound, which is safe for humans, is effective in preventing brain damage caused by cocaine.

The research will first involve mice before eventually looking at whether it is effective in protecting humans from brain damage from the drug. In many cases the results from animal trials are not repeated when it comes to studies involving humans.

Cocaine is highly addictive and can make users feel over-confident and take careless risks. It also raises the body’s temperature and speeds up the heart which can increase the risk of cardiac arrest and convulsions.

The drug is one of the substances AlphaBiolabs regularly checks for in workplace, legal and peace of mind drug tests.