Recent research by scientists at Cambridge University suggests that cocaine may speed up the aging process of the brain. Abusers’ neurons age more quickly due to the loss of grey matter in the brain, which has been shown to correlate with the overall aging process.
Cocaine increases the concentration of dopamine in the brain by blocking its ability to reabsorb the neurotransmitter back into the cell. Dopamine is responsible for the feeling of euphoria that people feel. When the brain is overstimulated by dopamine, the brain’s homeostatic mechanisms attempt to level the concentration by reducing the number of dopamine receptors. When there are less dopamine receptors to respond to dopamine, the brain becomes desensitized. This mechanism is responsible for the addiction of cocaine; abusers become addicted to the euphoria. The figure below shows the cocaine abuser’s brain in comparison to a nonuser.
Returning to the topic of aging, researchers found that cocaine-dependent individuals lost about 3.08 ml of brain volume per year, which is twice the rate of healthy volunteers. Grey matter is responsible for a wide range of functions such as attention, decision-making, self-regulation, and memory. Neurodegeneration can cause cognitive decline, immunodeficiency, and brain atrophy. This premature aging has been seen in many middle-aged cocaine users.