November 15, 2007
Cocaine Alters Brain Gene Expression

A study in Plos One reports cocaine abuse alters gene expression in ways that might make coke heads remember and hunger for another dose of coke.

The chronic effects of cocaine abuse on brain structure and function are blamed for the inability of most addicts to remain abstinent. Part of the difficulty in preventing relapse is the persisting memory of the intense euphoria or cocaine “rush”. Most abused drugs and alcohol induce neuroplastic changes in brain pathways subserving emotion and cognition. Such changes may account for the consolidation and structural reconfiguration of synaptic connections with exposure to cocaine. Adaptive hippocampal plasticity could be related to specific patterns of gene expression with chronic cocaine abuse. Here, we compare gene expression profiles in the human hippocampus from cocaine addicts and age-matched drug-free control subjects. Topping the list of cocaine-regulated transcripts was RECK in the human hippocampus (FC = 2.0; p<0.05). RECK is a membrane-anchored MMP inhibitor that is implicated in the coordinated regulation of extracellular matrix integrity and angiogenesis. In keeping with elevated RECK expression, active MMP9 protein levels were decreased in the hippocampus from cocaine abusers. Pathway analysis identified other genes regulated by cocaine that code for proteins involved in the remodeling of the cytomatrix and synaptic connections and the inhibition of blood vessel proliferation (PCDH8, LAMB1, ITGB6, CTGF and EphB4). The observed microarray phenotype in the human hippocampus identified RECK and other region-specific genes that may promote long-lasting structural changes with repeated cocaine abuse. Extracellular matrix remodeling in the hippocampus may be a persisting effect of chronic abuse that contributes to the compulsive and relapsing nature of cocaine addiction.

If genes cause people to act compulsively then, what, we don't have total free will?

If we don't have total free will then doesn't that at least partially undermine arguments from political ideologies and philosophies that extol free societies? Do we need free wills in order for free societies to be intellectually defendable? I suppose your genes might be getting expressed in way s that will cause you to argue that we really do have free wills or that the real answer doesn't matter and has no implication for debates about freedom.

Also, does this result have any implications for drug legalization debates? (me thinks libertarian legalizers will say NO).

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 November 15 11:43 PM  Brain Addiction

cancer_man said at November 16, 2007 5:01 AM:

Hold it...

Isn't "coke heads" a little un PC?

If writing about people who drink wine or beer, we wouldn't call them sots, now would we?

Dowlan Smith said at November 16, 2007 7:24 AM:

It's a joke. Cocaine alters brain chemistry = coke head

Dog of Justice said at November 16, 2007 10:16 AM:

This type of phenomenon undermines extreme libertarian arguments that anti-drug laws should not exist anywhere. However, it is far from clear that the US is outlawing either the right drugs or is enforcing those laws in a wise manner, so I still sympathize with the milder libertarian position that federalist experimentation is in order. (Though, should that miraculously come to pass, I'd personally prefer to live in a state with fairly strict anti-drug laws.)

averros said at November 16, 2007 11:54 AM:

> I'd personally prefer to live in a state with fairly strict anti-drug laws.)

I have a lot of friends in BDSM community... are you sure you're not a closet submissive, deriving pleasure from being controlled and abused by others?

Because, well, if you don't do drugs you don't need laws telling you not to. And if you do and still think there should be laws against it, well, the only rational explanation for that is above.

Dog of Justice said at November 16, 2007 4:22 PM:

And if you do and still think there should be laws against it, well, the only rational explanation for that is above.

One word: externalities. Look it up, I'll wait.

Randall Parker said at November 16, 2007 6:42 PM:


Regarding "coke head": I'm very un-PC.

Sots: Well, some of them. Look some people literally have genes selected for to handle alcohol. Mediterraneans especially. Then you have people (e.g. Swedes or Amerinds) who genetically can't. Whereas cocaine is much newer and we really can't handle it.

rsilvetz said at November 17, 2007 12:00 PM:

Dog of Justice: Look up "ignorant". The rest of us will wait. For pete's sake. All actions carry externalities. Their existence does not argue for anything you propose and the fallacy of externality is rampant everywhere...

A brief excerpt from someone that had the time:

The Externalities Theory of ``public goods´´ states that some activities intrinsically imply externalities [2], and that government is a magic solution to managing these externalities. Actually, government is but a way to coercively concentrate externalities, from lots of small, manageable ones, into the huge and overwhelming externality of choosing a ``good´´ government, which turns out to be completely unmanageable [3].

Actually, governments create new externalities. Indeed, an externality always corresponds to either the lack of definition of a formal property right, or to the lack of enforcement of an existing property right, or to the contradictory enforcement of overlapping property rights. In as much as governments coercively impose their monopoly on the definition and enforcement of new and old property rights, they are the cause of any lasting externality. Governments prevent the use of natural mechanisms by which property rights emerge and externalities disappear: homesteading and the common law. Whenever government defines a rights protection policy or lack thereof, it makes the protection services stray away from what market forces would lead to, overprotecting some properties, and underprotecting other properties. It thus creates monopolies and hidden protectionist subsidies to the overprotected privileged ones, and at the same time creates the Tragedy of the Commons and a hidden taxation to the underprotected victims of its policies — in both cases, it generates a dynamics of plunder, whereby people are incited to lobby for ever more protection, all the while being discouraged from respecting underprotected properties, so that these underprotected properties will be more and more overexploited.

As for the way externalities are treated by governments, it is remarkable that in democracies, protectionist laws against political competition from emerging parties are welcomed as a way to secure that the will of the people will prevail, and to guarantee the power of the people against the power of money and lobbying. Actually, political protectionism increases the power of the established parties over the people, and replaces public campaigning based on the interest of the people with private lobbying based on the interests of the established politicians and of those who can have them vote protectionist laws in their interest (or have to pay racket protection to the politicians for the politicians not to vote laws against their interest). What the collectivists are actually doing is to replace private people responsibly launching public advertisement campaigns with shadow agencies lobbying political powers that be, and with irresponsible political parties directing propaganda at the public. Now, private advertisers can be sued for fraud if they breach their promises; they must fund their campaign on the expected marginal increase in the revenues of their own legitimate activity. On the contrary, the political advertisers constantly lie; they fund their campaign with taxes levied on the population and with the sale of protectionist favors to various political lobbyists. Thus once again, politics does not remove the ``problems´´ of a free society, but actually concentrates them and amplifies them.

Dog of Justice said at November 17, 2007 11:38 PM:

Um, WTF? I already said that I'd be fine with a federalist system where some states had liberal drug laws and others didn't. So I'm not insisting on any real restriction on responsible drug users' freedoms; I just insist on the existence of a control for your drug legalization experiment, and I would prefer to live in that control for now because I think you're underestimating the negative consequences of legalization in America.

Do governments create awful externalities? Of course! But there are things even worse than government, and a cursory look to the south suggests that a drug-dominated society may be among those worse things. (And Randall's original post points out one reason drugs are unusually dangerous.) Claiming that there is no rational basis for my position is entering "assume a spherical cow" territory -- just to pick one blatantly obvious example, if a drug results in a massive increase in violent behavior (as was actually the case with crack), I'm likely to be hurt if my neighbors use it, even if I don't use it myself; this has a much greater impact on my quality of life than a very small risk of governmental abuse of power against me.

John Pertz said at November 19, 2007 6:26 PM:

Arent governments comprised of human beings? So if human beings dont have free will, how exactly is that an argument for or against libertarianism? If the people who make the laws that govern the people who dont have free will lack free will themselves, then how is that an argument for expanding their power? The lack of human free will as a result of chemical impulses generated by the brain is neither an argument for or against greater human freedom. If anything its an argument against less centralized rule.

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