Taking cocaine could cause irreversible brain damage, scientists from Edinburgh University have warned.
Cocaine can cause long-term health damage, say experts
Tests on genetically modified mice showed that cocaine inhibited the brain by destroying a key protein responsible for learning and memory.
Abusing the highly addictive drug can lead to long-term memory loss and learning difficulties, say experts.
One of the scientists behind the study said prolonged abuse could even affect long-term career prospects.
Scientists have already shown that cocaine gives users a "high" by stimulating the area of the brain known as the striatum and leads to a craving for more of the Class A drug.
Now, researchers at the University of Edinburgh, the Cambridgeshire-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and US scientists have shown that levels of the protein PSD-95 - directly linked to learning and long-term memory - dropped by half when exposed to cocaine in laboratory tests
The work, which is published in the medical journal Neuron, also suggests that in the future the research could be used to develop ways of beating drug addiction.
Seth Grant, Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Our work has shown that the molecules which cause drug-induced changes in the brain are linked to mechanisms involved in learning and memory.
"The protein is important in remembering people, places and things, so cocaine strikes at the kind of learning which would include, for example, studying for examinations.
"Cocaine damages the brain - there is no doubt about it.
"I would not recommend anyone takes cocaine if they were doing a lot of study or holding down a high level job that requires a lot of thinking."
Prof Grant gave a stark warning to anyone contemplating taking the drug.
"We do not know how possible it is to reverse the damage of cocaine use but abuse seems to have long term effects," he said.