Cocaine has long been known to be a controlled substance with a high potential for dependence addiction. This is due to a number of different reasons, including physical tolerance that develops, along with the short lived nature of its effects. However, a recent research study on mice determined there is a bacterial protein that causes the immune system to attack the drug. This may in turn lead to a weakening of cocaine’s hallucinatory effects and assist in the recovery process.
This bacterial protein is known as flagellin, which has been used in vaccines previously. This combination has proven more effective than previously attempted vaccines against the drug. Further, such anti-drug vaccines may be created in the future if this continues to be effective. Though the concept of using a vaccine for drug abuse is not new, the methods of professionals at Scripps Research Institute — in La Jolla, CA — are.
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines for drug use work by creating antibodies that search for the drug as it enters the body. The passage of the drug is then stopped before it enters the brain. Since the addictive qualities of the drug are related to brain activity, this is quite significant in addressing dependence directly. As a result, the patient would simply not feel effects of the drug that drive them to use in the first place.
There is concern that some addicts may simply use larger amounts of the drug to combat the vaccine. It is still unknown if such attempts could indeed defeat the efforts of the vaccine. There is also the worry that some drug abusers may simply turn to another substance instead. Additionally, the antibodies from the drug never entirely leave the person’s body which may cause discrimination against a recovered addict later on, if they are required to submit to a work-related drug test.
In reality, cocaine is a small and simple molecule when it exists in the body. However, when it is attached to a more complicated molecule, it gains the ability to affect the immune system. Once the vaccine is used, levels of antibodies will take several weeks to reach full effect. Currently, it is not known how many times the vaccine would need to be administered in order to maintain its effectiveness. Humans would likely need a number of vaccinations in order to see the best results. So far, side effects related to studies have been minor though redness or irritation of the skin may occur in the area where the vaccine is injected.
Although this vaccine resembles others because it instigates the production of antibodies, it differs in that it attaches to molecules in the blood and stops them from reaching the brain.
Past and Future
Researchers have been attempting to develop vaccines for drug addiction for about 30 years. Despite a number of promising advances, none have been able to receive government regulatory approval. Currently, the only approved drug treatments are for legal adult substances such as alcohol and nicotine. This is not necessarily surprising, as the illegality of controlled substances also often stands in the way of research.
An effective vaccine for cocaine use may lead to significant changes in how such drug abuse is dealt with as the vaccine may become a factor for parole for drug offenders. It may also be used as a term of condition for employment or to receive welfare payments from the government. In addition, the vaccine may also be used to help prevent a person from developing a dependence on cocaine in the first place. Of course, this would all need to follow approval by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as backing from a pharmaceutical company. In the meantime, research will continue to evolve.
The Importance of Therapy
Though such breakthroughs continue to offer hope for those suffering from substance abuse, therapy will continue to be important part of treatment as well. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, which is used at Sovereign Health, is a viable option for those facing cocaine dependence. This will help patients better understand what triggers their cocaine use and how to better manage such signs. To learn more about treatment for substance abuse recovery you can call Sovereign Health at 888-530-4614 for more information.
Contributed by Sovereign Health Writer, Ryan McMaster