Cocaine use has reached epidemic proportions across most of the world. It is among the most commonly used illegal drugs in Europe and the United States. Cocaine abuse can lead to addiction and a host of serious health problems, including cardiovascular complications, stroke, seizures, coma and death. Cocaine is an extremely difficult addiction, and while treatment is more effective as drug and alcohol rehab becomes more sophisticated, the rate of relapse remains high.
In recent years, researchers at New York’s Weill Cornell College have been working on development of vaccines that may effectively block cocaine before the tiny cocaine molecules can cross through the protective blood-brain barrier. The treatment, which involves injection of a cocaine-like substance, triggers the body’s own immune system to produce anti-cocaine antibodies that are released as soon as cocaine is used. In animal tests, very little cocaine made it across the barrier.
Another method currently under study involves injection of genes into the liver cells. The liver quickly produces antibodies, which halt the drug before it reaches the brain.
If either vaccine works, users will derive very little pleasure or benefit from using cocaine, which will make it much easier to stop using.
So far, researchers aren’t sure how long the effect of the vaccines will last. However, animal tests suggest the effects may be present for several weeks. If the drug is approved, addicts would receive a series of shots consisting of an initial shot followed by regular booster shots.