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Methamphetamine abuse linked to long-term damage to brain cells

New research shows that those who use methamphetamine, often called "meth" or "speed," risk long-term damage to their brain cells similar to that caused by strokes or Alzheimer's disease. In an article published in the March 28 issue of Neurology, scientists at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to take measurements of three parts of the brains of 26 participants who had used methamphetamine and then compared them with measurements of the same regions in the brains of 24 people who had no history of drug abuse.

"While the meth users in this study hadn't used the drug for some time--anywhere from two weeks to 21 months, this research strongly suggests that methamphetamine abuse causes harmful physical changes in the brain that can last for many months and perhaps longer after drug use has stopped," said Dr. Alan I. Leshner, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In their study, Dr. Linda Chang and Dr. Thomas Ernst measured levels of brain chemicals that indicate whether brain cells are healthy or are diseased or damaged.

"We found abnormal brain chemistry in the methamphetamine users in all three brain regions we studied. In one of the regions, the amount of damage is also related to the history of drug use--those who had used the most methamphetamine had the strongest indications of cell damage," Dr. Chang said.

The researchers found that levels of one chemical marker, N-acetyl-aspartate, were reduced by at least five percent in the methamphetamine abusers. "Many diseases associated with brain cell loss or damage, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and epilepsy, are also associated with reduced N-acetyl-aspartate," said Dr. Ernst. "Reduced concentrations of N-acetyl-aspartate in the drug users' brains suggest that long-term methamphetamine abuse results in loss or damage to neurons, the cells we use in thinking." Two other chemical markers, myo-inositol and choline-contai
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Contact: Michelle Muth
MM488g@nih.gov
301-594-6141
NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse
26-Mar-2000


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