Antidote for Cocaine Abuse

Antidote for Cocaine Abuse

Last Updated: October 27, 2022

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Of all the illicit stimulants, cocaine is notorious for its addictive potential. For many people, overcoming a cocaine use disorder is an incredibly challenging process that can include frustrating setbacks.

Medical researchers have spent decades evaluating strategies that might ease the challenges associated with recovering from cocaine or other substance use disorders. While a “cocaine antidote” does not yet exist, there are a number of promising therapeutic strategies that are currently being tested in the laboratory. Among these strategies is “immunopharmacotherapy” ⁠— a term that originates from experiments conducted in the 20th century.

What Is Immunopharmacotherapy?

Immunopharmacotherapy is a branch of science that combines molecular and immunological approaches to address common disorders, including substance use disorders involving drugs like cocaine. Immunopharmacotherapy stems from the same basic science approaches that delivered common drugs and vaccines to the public, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Tylenol, Aleve), antihistamines (Benadryl), corticosteroids (prescription-strength anti-inflammatories).

How Does Immunopharmacotherapy Work to Treat Cocaine Addiction?

Essentially, a specific protein is injected into the body, ⁠which activates immune cells to create antibodies. These antibodies bind with the drug and block it before it reaches the brain. Antibodies are produced by immune cells and act as sentries that monitor the bloodstream for antigens, which are foreign invaders that may pose a threat. The job of an antibody is to sequester an antigen and prevent it from causing damage.

Immunopharmacotherapy takes advantage of the human body’s antibody-antigen relationship by administering human-made antibodies that are highly specific to cocaine. When cocaine-specific antibodies encounter cocaine, they will sequester it and prevent it from reaching the brain. This effectively prevents cocaine from being able to deliver the self-reinforcing “high” that promotes abuse and addiction.

Vaccines are also immunotherapies but they approach the immune system from a different avenue. Vaccines also deliver inert versions of antigens that prime the immune system for future exposure. Every time a foreign antigen ⁠— like the flu, for example ⁠— enters the body, millions of antigen-specific antibodies are produced that can remain on high alert for years or even decades.

Scientists are learning how to co-opt this antigen-antibody system in order for it to react to potential future threats like harmful substances. However, unlike the flu, cocaine is a stable molecule that does not evolve to match the immune system of the person who is using it. Thus, while a cocaine vaccine is a theoretical possibility, it has not been fully realized as of yet.

To summarize, immunopharmacotherapy has two potential avenues that may help people facing cocaine use disorders:

  1. Man-made antibody-mediated sequestering of cocaine molecules to prevent cocaine from accessing the brain, where it produces the desired high.
  2. Vaccine-mediated training of the immune system to recognize cocaine as an antigen that should be sequestered and rapidly excreted.

Immunopharmacotherapy for Cocaine Detox

Detox happens as cocaine is cleared out of the body after someone stops using it. It is during the cocaine detox period that the effects of an overdose become apparent. Immunopharmacotherapies can prevent the effects of cocaine during detox and can be life-saving.

Even if someone has not taken a life-threatening amount of cocaine, preventing cocaine from exerting its effects can be beneficial. Immunopharmacotherapies that are administered during detox will limit the effect that cocaine has on the brain. This can have several positive outcomes, including:

Immunopharmacotherapy for Treating Cocaine Addiction

For people who struggle with cocaine dependence and addiction, immunopharmacotherapies may be a valuable strategy to maximize long-term success in recovery. Laboratory studies have shown that the administration of a cocaine vaccine prior to cocaine delivery can block the drug’s effects. Although they’re not yet ready for widespread human use, these findings suggest that cocaine vaccines may offer people with cocaine use disorders a way to avoid relapse and the harm that comes with one.

Awaiting FDA Approval

Immunopharmacotherapies remain an area of active research and are not yet available for human use. While there have been promising trials showing that cocaine-specific antibodies can help people overcome cravings in the early stages of recovery, a great deal of research needs to be carried out. Several research groups are currently working with the FDA to get approval for additional human studies and, even though it’s not certain, cocaine immunopharmacotherapies will likely be a valid treatment option in the future.

The Recovery Village Columbus provides cutting-edge, evidence-based rehab programs. If you or someone you love is struggling with cocaine use, we can help you on your journey to recovery. Take the first step: Call today to learn more about our comprehensive rehab programs and how we can help you get your life back.


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