Treatment of cocaine addiction has always been hampered by high rates of relapse, even after prolonged drug abstinence. Research teams from the Drug Abuse Program of the VU Medical Center in the Netherlands and the intramural laboratories of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have identified a process in the brain that may lead to a new generation of medications to prevent relapse to cocaine use.
In studies using rats, the scientists, led by Dr. Taco J. De Vries of VU Medical Center and Dr. Yavin Shaham of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), found that the same system — the cannabinoid system — that governs the pharmacological actions of marijuana in the brain also plays an important role in the neuronal processes underlying relapse to cocaine use. By blocking cannabinoid receptor activity with chemical antagonists, the investigators prevented relapse to cocaine use induced by exposure to cocaine-associated cues or by cocaine itself.
This finding could open up a new avenue for the development of drugs to prevent relapse to cocaine use induced by environmental cues. Treatment of cocaine addiction has always been hampered by high rates of relapse, even after prolonged drug abstinence, and this research could be the first step in the development of a new medicinal approach to make it easier for a recovering addict to remain drug-free.