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Gateway Drug Biology

November 9, 2017

Use of legal drugs may make use of illegal ones more likely to lead to addiction.



The biology of gateway drugs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Using legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine primes the brain for addiction to illegal drugs, like cocaine, according to Columbia University researcher Edmund Griffin, Jr. and his colleagues writing in the journal Science Advances. They report that rats given alcohol for ten days were far more likely to get hooked on cocaine than rats given just water, ignoring even electric shocks to get at the drug.

EDMUND GRIFFIN, JR. (Columbia University):

After that we asked, okay, what’s happening on the molecular level, and we found that alcohol is causing degradation of histone deacetylase, which acts as a molecular brake-pad inside the reward center of the brain.


That molecular brake-pad is also degraded by nicotine. Griffin and his colleagues suspect this same effect makes cocaine more addictive to humans who drink or smoke. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon