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Smoking gene protects against coc aine addiction
25 June 2008
NewScientist.com news service
IT MAY be a small consolation, but a mutation in a gene that makes you more likely to smoke also offers some protection against coc aine dependence.
An earlier study showed that people with two copies of a mutation in the CHRNA5 gene are twice as likely to become heavy smokers. The assumption was that genes for nicotine addiction would also increase the risk of addiction to other drugs. "Most coc aine users are also smokers, so we expected the same gene to increase the risk for both," says Rick Grucza of Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.
But when his team scanned the genes of 260 coc aine addicts and 244 non-addicts, they found that only 48 per cent of addicts had at least one copy of the CHRNA5 mutation compared to 64 per cent of the non-addicts. Using the number of copies of the mutation that people in each group had, the researchers calculated that two copies of the mutation reduce the risk of addiction by 55 per cent and one copy by 35 per cent (Biological Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.04.018).
How might the same gene make people more likely to smoke yet less vulnerable to coc aine addiction? The CHRNA5 mutation damps down the function of a receptor found on both reward and inhibitory neurons. As coc aine only affects the reward neurons, the researchers speculate that decreased receptor function means people with the mutation get less of a kick out of coc aine, making them less susceptible to addiction. But as nicotine affects inhibitory neurons as well as reward ones, a decrease in receptor function reduces inhibition as well as reward. The team says this reduced inhibition causes people with the mutated gene to get more reward from nicotine than those with a normal one.
Psychiatrist Gerome Breen at King's College London says the results make sense as negative mutations tend to stay in the gene pool only if they also benefit the carrier. Grusza says we will need to understand which genes have opposing effects if we want to avoid unintended side effects once drugs to treat addictions become available.
From issue 2661 of New Scientist magazine, 25 June 2008, page 14
FORMS OF COCAINE
See our crack coc aine page.
As the name implies, “freebase” is the base form of coc aine, as opposed to the salt form of coc aine hydrochloride. Whereas coc aine hydrochloride is extremely soluble in water, coc aine base is insoluble in water and is therefore not suitable for drinking, snorting or injecting.
Smoking freebase is preferred by many users because the coc aine is absorbed immediately into blood via the lungs, where it reaches the brain in about five seconds. The rush is much more intense than sniffing the same amount of coc aine nasally, but the effects do not last as long.
The peak of the freebase rush is over almost as soon as the user exhales the vapor, but the high typically lasts 5-10 minutes afterward.
What makes freebasing particularly dangerous is that users typically don't wait that long for their next hit and will continue to smoke freebase until none is left.
Cocaine sulfate is produced by macerating coca leaves along with water that has been acidulated with sulfuric acid, or a naphtha-based solvent, like kerosene or benzene. After the coc aine is extracted, the water is evaporated to yield a pasty mass of impure coc aine sulfate.
In South America, it is commonly smoked along with tobacco, and is known as pasta, basuco, basa, pitillo, paco or simply paste. It is also gaining popularity as a cheap drug (.30-.70 U.S. cents per “hit” or dose) in Argentina.
WAYS IT IS TAKEN
Users who ingest coc aine typically chew the coca leaves in their mouths much like chewing tobacco. Coca leaves typically are mixed with an alkaline substance (such as lime) and chewed into a wad that is retained in the mouth between gum and cheek and sucked of its juices. The juices are absorbed slowly by the mucous membrane of the inner cheek and by the gastro-intestinal tract when swallowed.
Alternatively, coca leaves can be infused in liquid and consumed like tea.
Ingesting coca leaves generally is an inefficient means of administering coc aine. Because coc aine is hydrolyzed (rendered inactive) in the acidic stomach, it is not readily absorbed. Only when mixed with a highly alkaline substance (such as lime) can it be absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach.
Contrary to popular belief, both ingestion and insufflation result in approximately the same proportion of the drug being absorbed: 30 to 60 percent.
Snorting (also known as “sniffing,” or “blowing") is the most common method of ingestion of recreational powder coc aine in the Western world.
Snorting coc aine produces maximum physiological effects within 40 minutes and maximum psychotropic effects within 20 minutes, which is similar to ingestion of coc aine. Physiological and psychotropic effects from nasally insufflated coc aine are sustained for approximately 60 minutes after the peak effects are attained. Van Dyke, et al.
Contrary to widespread belief, coc aine is not actually inhaled using this method; rather the drug coats and is absorbed through the mucous membranes lining the sinuses.
Prior to insufflation, coc aine powder must be divided into very fine particles. Cocaine of high purity breaks into fine dust very easily, except when it is moist (not well stored) and forms “chunks,” which reduce the efficiency of nasal absorption.
Rolled up banknotes, hollowed-out pens, cut straws, pointed ends of keys, and specialized spoons are often used to insufflate coc aine. Such devices are often referred to as “tooters” by users.
The coc aine typically is poured onto a flat, hard surface (such as a mirror) and divided into “lines” (usually with a razor blade, credit card or driver's license card), which are then insufflated. One line is generally considered to be a single dose and is typically 35mg-100mg.
Drug injection provides the highest blood levels of drug in the shortest amount of time.
Upon injection, coc aine reaches the brain in a matter of seconds, and the exhilarating rush that follows can be so intense that it induces some users to vomit uncontrollably. The euphoria passes quickly.
An injected mixture of coc aine and heroin, known as “speedball” or “moonrock”, is a particularly popular and dangerous combination, as the converse effects of the drugs actually complement each other, but may also mask the symptoms of an overdose.
It has been responsible for numerous deaths, particularly in and around Los Angeles, including celebrities such as River Phoenix, Chris Farley and Layne Staley.
Smoking freebase or crack coc aine is most often accomplished using a pipe made from a small glass tube about one quarter-inch (about 6 mm) in diameter and on the average, four inches long.
These are sometimes called “stems”, “horns”, “blasters” and “straight shooters,” readily available in convenience stores or smoke shops.
An alternate method is to use a small length of a radio antenna or similar metal tube.
A popular (usually pejorative) term for crack pipes is “glass dick."
The “rock” is placed at the end of the pipe closest to the filter and the other end of the pipe is placed in the mouth. A flame from a cigarette lighter or handheld torch is then held under the rock. As the rock is heated, it melts and burns away to vapor, which the user inhales as smoke.
The effects, felt almost immediately after smoking, are very intense and do not last long usually five to fifteen minutes. In
When smoked, coc aine is sometimes combined with other drugs, such as cannabis; often rolled into a joint or blunt.
This combination is known as “primo”, “hype”, "shake and bake”,a “turbo” “SnowCaps”, “B-151er”, a “cocoapuff”, a “dirty” a “woo”, or “geeking.”
Cocaine can also be taken by oral methods. One method of achieving a coc aine high is to rub the powder along the gum line, which renders the gums and teeth numb: hence the colloquial name of “numbies” for this type of administration.
This is commonly done with the small amounts of coc aine remaining on a surface after insufflation.
Another oral method is to wrap up some coc aine in rolling paper and swallow it. This is called a “speed bomb”.