nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

STUDY: Cocaine Vaccine For Stoned Mice

Making the world safe for mice.  Not that they need it; mice don’t have addictions unless we force them into it.

See the article (Science Daily, Jan 5) reporting on research into a vaccine against cocaine. The researchers took part of a virus, attached a cocaine analogue to it, then injected it into mice. The injection caused an immune reaction, just as would occur if the virus was an infection.  Except… the immune reaction in this case occurs to the attached cocaine analogue.  Hypothetically, the immune response would block any cocaine look-alike from having an effect on the mouse.  Researchers then gave addicted mice cocaine and observed their post-vaccinated behavior.

I’m not an expert on the behavior of addicted mice.  You might ask “What is the behavior of a stoned mouse, such that researchers could discern a change in that behavior?”

The criterion used was whether the mice exhibited signs of hyperactivity. I’m not sure whether this is an accepted measure of mouse cocaine-high-ness.  Ultimately, we have no idea what’s going on in a mouse’s head, stoned on cocaine (or even if they are stoned, in the human sense).

They found those mice who had been given the cocaine vaccine didn't appear to exhibit the hyperactive effect that cocaine-addicted, unvaccinated mice did when given cocaine.

Readers of Nostrums will look beyond the headline and question the claim that such a vaccine could be useful in treating cocaine-addicted humans. Subconsciously, we make the connection that a “vaccine” prevents a harmful disease.  So, a vaccine against cocaine would prevent the cocaine effect, and addicted persons would have no reason to abuse the substance. 

The analogy to other vaccines breaks down because addiction, while considered a disease, is not one that people get through no action of their own, like polio, say, which you get by chance exposure.   Substance abuse requires a behavior that seeks out the disease.  Clearly, people don’t want polio, and the vaccine prevents it. A cocaine vaccine may prevent the effect of something that is harmful, but not the motivation that led to the substance abuse.

My guess is that this vaccine, if effective, will prevent people from using cocaine to get high…and they'll find a substitute. It may be a new compound--synthesized from cocaine, maybe--that is different enough chemically that the vaccine-induced immunity won't recognize it as cocaine, but the brain will. Or, they will seek out some other substance that gives as close to a cocaine high as possible.

As we’ve seen in previous attempts to deal with human behaviors, methods that don't address the need, or the motivation, for that behavior are less effective. The vaccine (which should be pursued) is not an answer. Maybe it can help, but until we are able to address directly the “thing in us” that drives us to addictive behavior--whether it be drugs or food, or other destructive and harmful attitudes and actions--the problems will persist.

There’s always another way to get high.  Sarcastic smile

Doc D
 
 

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