Nicotine is a Gateway Drug

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A new study in mice has shown that tobacco products can act as gateway drugs, opening the door to use of illicit drugs. Nicotine, makes the brain more susceptible to cocaine addiction. Lowering smoking rates in young people might help reduce cocaine abuse.

In a recent US national survey, over 90% of adult cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 had smoked cigarettes before they began using cocaine.

A team of scientists, led by Dr. Eric Kandel at Columbia University and supported by NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in Science Translational Medicine on November 2, 2011 reported that mice given nicotine in their drinking water for 7 days showed increased activity in response to cocaine. The animals also had changes in a brain signaling process called long-term potentiation.

Earlier research had shown that expression levels of a gene called FosB in the brain’s striatum was linked to cocaine addiction. In the new study, investigators found that 7 days of nicotine administration caused a 61% increase in FosB expression. When given a dose of cocaine, these mice had an additional 74% increase in FosB expression compared to mice treated with cocaine alone. Reversing the order of the drugs didn’t lead to a boost in FosB expression.