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THE BRAIN'S RESPONSE TO STIMULANTS (COCAINE)
We all know that caffeine is a mild stimulant found in chocolate, soda's and coffee. Although these are mild stimulants it still affects the way our brain works. The stronger stimulants are the one's that we abuse most.
COCAINE--Made from the leaf of the cocoa plant, this drug often comes in the form of white powder that some of us inhale or inject.
CRACK--A form of cocaine that can be smoked.
AMPHETAMINES--Often called "speed" these pills are sometimes prescribed by doctors for medical problems.
METHAMPHETAMINES--A powerful form of amphetamine that comes in clear crystals (called "ice") or powder (called "crank") that is smoked or injected.
MISCOMMUNICATION IN THE BRAIN
Cocaine and amphetamines change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing special chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are able to work by attaching to key sites on neurons called receptors. One of the neurotransmitters affected by cocaine is called dopamine. Dopamine is released by neurons in the limbic system--the part of the brain that controls feelings of pleasures.
Normally, once dopamine has attached to a nerve cell's receptor and caused a change in the cell, it's pumped back to the neuron that released it. But cocaine blocks the pump, called the dopamine transporter. Dopamine then builds up in teh gap (synapse) between neurons. The result: dopamine keeps affecting a nerve cell after it should have stopped. That's why someone who uses cocaine feels an extra sense of pleasure for a short time.
COCAINE CAN DAMAGE THE WAY THE BRAIN WORKS
Although cocaine may make someone feel pleasure for a while, later it can damage the ability to feel pleasure. Research suggests that long-term cocaine use may reduce the amount of dopamine or the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. When this happens, nerve cells must have cocaine to communicate properly. Without the drug, the brain can't send enough dopamine into the receptors to create a feeling of pleasure. If a long-time user of cocaine or crack stops taking the drug, the person feels an extremely strong craving for it, because without it he or she can't feel nearly as much pleasure.
COCAINE TIGHTENS BLOOD VESSELS
Cocaine causes the body's blood vessels to become narrow, constricting the flow of blood. This is a problem. It forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. When the heart works harder, it beats faster. It may works so hard that it temporarily loses its natural rhythm. This is called fibrillation, and it can be very dangerous because it stops the flow of blood through the body.
Many of cocaine's effects on the heart are actually caused by cocaine's impact on the brain--the body's control center.
SCIENTISTS DISCOVER ANSWERS
Scientists can clone the dopamine transporters now and are already working to create a medication for use as a treatment. The chemical would attach to the dopamine transporter just like cocaine does, but wouldn't block dopamine's normal movement back into neurons. By attaching to the transporter, the substitute would block the effects of cocaine.