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Stroke Cures Coke Addict

Scientists say the extraordinary case of a stroke ending a 20-year cocaine addiction could unravel some of the mysteries of the brain.

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By McCarton Ackerman

10/22/12

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It's hardly a recommended treatment method, but a near-fatal stroke suffered by a man from Montreal has rid him of a longtime cocaine addiction. The 45-year-old had been injecting or snorting up to seven grams or more of the drug daily since the age of 24. Nearly two years ago, he experienced a stroke affecting the basal ganglia—some large clusters of nerve cells deep in the brain that receive dopamine, the brain's pleasure chemical. Doctors say the man "reported no further craving for cocaine following stroke onset." Researchers note that before the stroke he scored nine out of 10 on a drug-abuse screening test, "indicating a severe level of problems related to drug use." Post-stroke, he scored zero on the same test. Dr. Sylvain Lanthier, an associate professor at the University of Montreal and director of the neurovascular program at Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, believes the findings may show that deep brain stimulation, an experimental treatment using electrical currents to "reset" the brain, could treat cocaine addiction. "It highlights the fact that certain areas of the brain are very important for the experience of the 'high' that comes from cocaine and substance use," says Dr. Mark Bayley, medical director of the brain and spinal cord rehabilitation program at the UHN-Toronto Rehab Institute. "It tells us that these neurotransmitters that are triggered by cocaine can be blocked." Apart from some initial temporary paralysis on his right side and the development of abnormally small hand writing, or "micrographia," the man appears set to make a full recovery from both his stroke and his addiction.

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