New research shows that nicotine has potential as a gateway drug, enhancing the effects of cocaine and increases the chances of addiction to the drug.
The study of laboratory mice suggests that reduction of the use of all tobacco products and nicotine replacement products or secondhand smoke can help to curb addiction to other substances that are addictive.
According to the study, reducing smoking rates in youth would result in fewer people becoming addicted to cocaine. The study, conducted at Columbia University, located in New York and lead by Dr. Amir Levine showed the mice who had first been exposed to nicotine showed more characteristics of addiction than mice not first exposed to nicotine. However, if the mice were first exposed to cocaine and then nicotine, there was no such behavior change.
Nicotine seems to influence the histone proteins that are produced in the brain’s reward center. This can activate genes that cause an exaggeration in the body’s response to cocaine.
While there still needs to be confirmation of the research, it raises many questions. The implication seems to be that reducing use of nicotine would lower the rate of addiction to other drugs. According to the study’s review of high school students, over 81 percent beginning to use cocaine did so when actively smoking tobacco.
In addition, treating nicotine addiction may be helpful in cocaine addiction recovery. This would also suggest behavioral smoking cessation programs would be more effective for patients in substance abuse recovery than use of nicotine replacement products.
Finally, the question must be asked about the effect of tobacco on other gateway drugs. Does it just affect the use of cocaine or does it also apply to marijuana and alcohol use as well? If so, then the importance of tobacco prevention for students at the high school and younger levels is all the more important.