New York researchers reported in the journal Nature that they had demonstrated how cocaine gets people "high" and predicted that their tests could help develop better drugs to treat addicts. Tests on mice have shown that cocaine acts on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between brain cells and is important to movement and motivation. Higher levels of dopamine create feelings of euphoria.
In mice, cocaine blocks the re-uptake of dopamine--keeping it from being absorbed back into cells and thus keeping more of it around longer. Nora Volkow of Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and colleagues reported that this also happens with people. Using sophisticated imaging techniques, they showed that cocaine blocked 60% to 77% of the enzyme that is responsible for re-uptake of dopamine.