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Brain Research Shows how Nicotine can be a Gateway Drug

Over 90 percent of adult cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 report that they smoked cigarettes before using cocaine. This led scientists to wonder if nicotine changes our brains by making them more sensitive to cocaine and other illicit drugs.

A recent study in mice showed that nicotine had an effect on certain genes in the brain that could make them more susceptible to cocaine addiction.

When exposed to nicotine those genes worked harder, making it easier for the brain to become addicted to cocaine. The effect only happened to mice brains exposed to nicotine before cocaine, and not the other way around. The research suggests that reducing smoking in young people may help reduce the risk of later cocaine abuse and addiction.

To read more about this research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), visit the NIH Research Matters Blog.