The cocaine It is one of the most consumed drugs in Europe – the second after cannabis –, especially in the southern countries of the continent, including Spain, as revealed by the ‘European Drug Report 2023: trends and developments’ prepared by the European Observatory of Drugs. Drugs. Its wide use is due to its powerful ability to generate addictionsince users need to continue consuming it to maintain the state of euphoria and well-being they experience.
For treat cocaine addiction psychological therapies are used, but now a group of Brazilian researchers has developed a vaccine which triggers a reaction of the immune system that prevents this drug and its powerful derivative, crack reach the brain and produce the effects that hook consumers, thus helping them overcome their dependence.
The new vaccine is called Calixcoca and is designed to help produce anti-cocaine antibodies in the body of a person who is chemically dependent on this substance. The treatment has been successfully tested in animal studies, generating significant levels of anti-cocaine antibodies and few side effects, and has even been shown to protect rat fetuses against the drug, suggesting it could be used in humans to protect the fetuses of pregnant women, as explained in Euronews.
“The vaccine is not a panacea. A scientific evaluation needs to be carried out to precisely identify how it would work and for whom it would be effective.”
According to Frederico Garcia, psychiatrist and project coordinator at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), if this therapy is approved by health authorities it would be the first time that cocaine addiction has been treated with a vaccine. “There is no specific treatment recorded for cocaine and crack addiction. We currently use a combination of psychological counselling, social assistance and rehabilitation, when necessary,” he states.
How the vaccine against cocaine and crack works
The vaccine works by inducing a response from patients’ immune systems to produce antibodies that bind to cocaine molecules in the bloodstream, making them too large to pass into the brain’s mesolimbic system, or “reward center,” where the drug normally stimulates high levels of dopamine that causes pleasure.
“It has been shown to be safe in at least three species of animals. All of this suggests that it may be useful in the treatment of people with addictions and, therefore, clinical studies that evaluate safety and efficacy in humans are essential. We need to do this evaluation to identify who it works for, with how much vaccine, how frequently, what the effect is and what the improvement in the patients’ prognosis is,” Garcia explained.
The researcher believes that Calixcoca could become a key tool to help patients in critical stages of recovery, such as when they leave rehabilitation. The vaccine is made with laboratory-designed chemicals, rather than biological ingredients, meaning it would be less expensive to produce than many vaccines and would not need to be stored at low temperatures.
However, he has also stressed that it is not a panacea that can be administered to anyone: “The vaccine is not a panacea. It would not be indicated indiscriminately for all people with cocaine use disorder. A scientific evaluation needs to be carried out to identify precisely how it would work and for whom, in fact, it would be effective,” she warns.
The exact target group will depend on the outcome of clinical trials, but in theory it is intended for recovering addicts “who have quit (cocaine) and want to stay that way,” he says. The new treatment has generated a tremendous expectation and more than 3,000 people have already contacted the researchers to voluntarily participate in clinical trials.