One Taste Can Be All It Takes
> 4/26/2007 11:06:04 AM

It has become something of a trope in many circles that simply "trying" a drug one time isn't all that dangerous. However, new research from Brown University illustrates just how risky and damaging one dose can be. At the same time that it highlights the negative effects drugs have on the brain, this new information also plays an important part in working toward an understanding that could unlock the potential for new addiction medications.

Working with rats, the team from Brown found that an initial dose of morphine, an addictive opioid, effected the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in essence lowering the inhibitions of the subjects. The VTA is a main part of the brain's pleasure and reward system, and even the first exposure to morphine disrupted the proper functioning of synapses that play an integral part in the system's function.

Speaking to Reuters, one of the researchers described the team's findings:

"What we have found is that the inhibitory synapses can no longer be strengthened 24 hours after treatment with morphine, which suggests that a natural brake has been removed," said Julie Kauer, a professor of molecular pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology at Brown.

"This happens 24 hours after the animal had one dose of morphine. There is no morphine left in the brain. It shows that it is a persistent effect of the drug."

This process, the team speculates, is the beginning of addiction and can be tied to learning. When the VTA is effected, even once, it creates a situation wherein the brain is ready for, and even craves, similar experiences. In this way, humans who are in suggestive environments or relationships and decide to just try an opioid substance--such as heroin, oxycodone or fentanyl--once, are actually setting themselves up for future drug use. These physical effects often run counter to the perceived effects on the part of the person "experimenting," which means they are not prepared for just how strong the pull of the drug can be once it has been taken.

While uncovering this mechanism is very important for stressing the importance for prevention, it should also lead to increased research toward more effective drugs to treat addiction. Currently there are a couple of options for those ready to clean up their lives and leave opioid addiction behind, but drugs that targeted the effected areas of the brain more effectively would offer the chance for an increased possibility of success. Even better treatment options, however, would not save every life that has or will be destroyed by opioid addition and abuse. This research only serves to better illustrate the fact that there is no difference between use and abuse. By experimenting with recreational use of opioids, you already on the path of abuse.


Thanks for posting this link. I read an article about this study yesterday, but the Reuters information is much better. It's a great article; however, it is a little upsetting. I've seen the way my husband is struggling with cravings, and understanding it as a reversal of a brain process is pretty scary...
Posted by: The Junky's Wife 4/26/2007 3:39:33 AM

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