We all know about the dangerous health implications of drug use, but new research indicates that when it comes to cocaine, the effect on the human brain could be even worse than once thought. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an expert team of doctors from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that high doses of the recreational drug can cause the brain to, quite literally - and horrifyingly - eat itself. Nice.
Cocaine was found to stimulate an out-of-control version of a process called autophagy, which eliminates vital brain cells. "A cell is like a household that is constantly generating trash," Dr Prasun Guha, the lead researcher of the project, says. "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."
In the study, post-mortems revealed that mice fed high levels of cocaine showed clear signs of autophagy-induced brain cell destruction. There was also evidence of autophagy in the brain cells of mice whose mothers were given cocaine while pregnant. The take home message? Stick to champagne.