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The Brain & the Actions of Cocaine, Opiates, and Marijuana

6: Positron emission tomography (PET) scan of a person on cocaine

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan of a person on cocaine

Cocaine has other actions in the brain in addition to activating reward. Scientists have the ability to see how cocaine actually affects brain function in people. The PET scan allows one to see how the brain uses glucose; glucose provides energy to each neuron so it can perform work. The scans show where the cocaine interferes with the brain's use of glucose - or its metabolic activity. The left scan is taken from a normal, awake person. The red color shows the highest level of glucose utilization (yellow represents less utilization and blue shows the least). The right scan is taken from a cocaine abuser on cocaine. It shows that the brain cannot use glucose nearly as effectively - show the loss of red compared to the left scan. There are many areas of the brain that have reduced metabolic activity. The continued reduction in the neurons' ability to use glucose (energy) results in disruption of many brain functions.

This page was last updated January 2007

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