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Cocaine and Cigarettes

October 27, 2005

One listener asks: What do two very different drugs have in common?


Bad habits that feel good. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Both nicotine and cocaine are highly addictive. But does the connection end there? Deborah Hill of Durham, North Carolina, asked us if the two drugs stimulate the same receptors in the brain. We turned to behavioral pharmacologist Athina Markou of the Scripps Research Institute. She says no; every drug acts on different brain receptors. But the end result is the same—the stimulation of the brain’s natural reward chemicals.

ATHINA MARKOU (Scripps Research Institute):
The initial actions are at different receptors but they do eventually work through the same reward pathways.

These may be the same reward pathways associated with eating, drinking, and sex. Which is why addicts go back again and again. If you’re addicted to science, call 1-800-whyisit with your science question. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.