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Drugs

New Study Says Cocaine ‘Makes the Brain Eat Itself’

But, like: does it? Actually?

by Joel Golby
19 January 2016, 11:35am

I mean, quick legal note: that is not cocaine, in the photo, obviously. That is Paul Hollywood throwing some flour around. (Image via BBC)

A new study has found that high doses of the brain drug cocaine – known colloquially and on the streets as "gak" or "chang-a-lang" – can, it says here, 'make your brain eat itself from the inside out'. Which sounds: bad. Like you hear a lot of bad things about gak: great swathes of the rainforest burned down to get you your gram, the stabbings, the extorted workers, the laxatives. But this is probably the worst. It makes your brain eat itself despite not having a mouth on it. A brain, mad with hunger, consuming itself from the inside out. And then the neurons snap and the electricity zaps down through your nerves and into your mouth and face and makes you talk about yourself even louder and for even longer than ever before.

Anyway let's look at the headline facts from the study, being touted widely under the headline 'brains, on cocaine, grow monstrous many-toothed mouths that then bite the aforementioned brain in half, consuming it to death from within':

High doses of cocaine can cause the brain to eat itself, research suggests.

A study of mice found that the drug can trigger out-of-control "autophagy", a process by which cells digest themselves.

Press Association, 18 January 2016

Oh so it's... so the brain doesn't grow a large, chomping, Little Shop of Horrors-style fanged mouth. Disappointing, to be honest. It's just a cell process.

When it is properly regulated, autophagy provides a valuable cleanup service – getting rid of unwanted debris that is dissolved away by enzymes within cell "pockets".

Dr Prasun Guha, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US, who led the research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: "A cell is like a household that is constantly generating trash. Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash – it's usually a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell."

Essentially they found that if you give a load of cocaine (known among the street youths as "toot" or "naughty sherbet") to mice, this out-of-control brain process happens that leads to cell death, but an experimental and human-tested drug called CGP3466B can protect the mice brain cells from the ol' eating themselves to death thing. So: cocaine (referred to by dealers as "Westbrook's Breakfast" and "Gazza's Folly") is a problem, yes, but scientists have found a potential solution subject to further testing.

So I mean I suppose the headlines should be less 'Cocaine Makes Your Brain Eat Itself... And That's Bad!' and more 'Cocaine Makes The Cells In Your Brain Do Some Wacky Shit' but then that doesn't have quite the same sizzle to it, does it? And then we get into a weird fog of medical study reporting, where it's hard to actually peel the glue from the back of the headline vs. the actual truncated content of the study it is attached to, and then both are dismissed, and then we all rail a load of gak (short for 'Grade A Ketamine') again safe in the knowledge that our brains are probably fine. They are probably fine!

It's like: everyone knows smoking is bad for their lungs and blood, but they still love honking on a lovely refreshing cigarette every 15 to 25 minutes. Alcohol ruins your stomach and your liver and your sense of self-awareness, but we still gulp it on down like water. And cocaine is extremely bad for your brain cells and also quite unethical, but you still... you still could quite go for a line right now, couldn't you? Well: that's on you, buddy. Don't say we didn't tell you the study about the brains eating themselves doesn't exist. Because it does, and they tested it on mice.

@joelgolby

More stuff about cocaine and how it's bad for you:

Here's What's in All that Coke You Did This Weekend

We Asked Some Young People If They'd Stop Taking Coke After Watching This Video

WATCH: How the UK's Cocaine Habit Funds Islamic Extremists