WELLINGTON, April 28 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand scientists claim a breakthrough discovery could spell the end of "epidemic levels" of cocaine addiction in North America and parts of Europe.
Scientists at the University of Canterbury said Monday that they had found they could eliminate cravings for the narcotic by chemically activating a receptor in the brain.
The trace amine-associated receptor 1 was found in certain areas of the brain that appeared to be very sensitive to drugs, psychology researcher Dr Juan Canales said in statement.
Cocaine addiction remained at epidemic levels in the United States and in some European countries, but therapies to treat the condition were still ineffective, so the finding opened new avenues for therapeutic treatment.
"It remains to be seen whether activation of this recently discovered receptor provides relief for other forms of addiction too, including alcohol, nicotine and even compulsive eating. This is something we are going to investigate in the near future," Canales said.
The market for cocaine in New Zealand was small and unpredictable, although researchers had conducted experiments to see if activation of the brain receptor was effective in stopping craving for methamphetamine, a much bigger problem.
"So far the results indicate that activation of the trace amine receptor completely eliminates the self-administration of methamphetamine in rodents as it does for cocaine. We will publish the full results soon," said Canales.
"Cocaine and methamphetamine produce euphoric effects mainly through activation of a transmitter named dopamine. Dopamine is important for motivation, pleasure and well-being," he said.
"When cocaine and methamphetamine activate dopamine they fool the brain into thinking that they are really good, or better than anything experienced before but this is only an illusion."
The researchers discovered that when the trace amine receptor was activated, cocaine was unable to release dopamine into the pleasure centers, which explained their findings.
They also found that, after abstinence from chronic cocaine exposure, cocaine seeking disappeared when the trace amine receptor was activated, preventing relapse.