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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 Aug;39(9):2200-10. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.71. Epub 2014 Mar 21.

Cognitive impairment in cocaine users is drug-induced but partially reversible: evidence from a longitudinal study.

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Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Center of Forensic Hairanalytics, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Cocaine users consistently display cognitive impairments. However, it is still unknown whether these impairments are cocaine-induced and if they are reversible. Therefore, we examined the relation between changing intensity of cocaine use and the development of cognitive functioning within 1 year. The present data were collected as part of the longitudinal Zurich Cocaine Cognition Study (ZuCo(2)St). Forty-eight psychostimulant-naive controls and 57 cocaine users (19 with increased, 19 with decreased, and 19 with unchanged cocaine use) were eligible for analysis. At baseline and after a 1-year follow-up, cognitive performance was measured by a global cognitive index and four neuropsychological domains (attention, working memory, declarative memory, and executive functions), calculated from 13 parameters of a broad neuropsychological test battery. Intensity of cocaine use was objectively determined by quantitative 6-month hair toxicology at both test sessions. Substantially increased cocaine use within 1 year (mean +297%) was associated with reduced cognitive performance primarily in working memory. By contrast, decreased cocaine use (-72%) was linked to small cognitive improvements in all four domains. Importantly, users who ceased taking cocaine seemed to recover completely, attaining a cognitive performance level similar to that of the control group. However, recovery of working memory was correlated with age of onset of cocaine use-early-onset users showed hampered recovery. These longitudinal data suggest that cognitive impairment might be partially cocaine-induced but also reversible within 1 year, at least after moderate exposure. The reversibility indicates that neuroplastic adaptations underlie cognitive changes in cocaine users, which are potentially modifiable in psychotherapeutical or pharmacological interventions.

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