July 20, 2004
Methamphetamine Addict Brain Scans Show Extensive Losses

Paul Thompson, Ph.D. of the UCLA Lab of Neuro-Imaging and Brain Mapping Division and a number of colleagues have published new research on the extensive brain damage caused by methamphetamine addiction.

A new UCLA Neuroscience imaging study shows for the first time the selective pattern of destruction to the brain's memory, emotion and reward systems experienced by chronic methamphetamine users. Color, three-dimensional visualizations created from magnetic resonance images vividly show the damage. The study reveals the mechanism by which drug abuse damages the brain and suggests potential targets for therapy in recovering drug users. The research appears in the June 30 online edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Neuroscience. Authors Dr. Paul Thompson, associate professor of neurology, and Dr. Edythe London, professor at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, are available for interviews.

If you click through on that previous link you'll see a graphic showing the scale of the loss in different parts of the brain. Note that the legend puts the red color level of loss at 5% and most of the brain shows a 5% loss of volume. White matter swelling makes the brain larger overall due to inflammation. But obviously there is extensive cell death.

Brain regions involved in drug craving, emotion and reward, and hippocampal brain regions involved in learning and memory, lose up to 10% of their tissue. Red colors denote brain regions with greatest tissue loss, blue colors regions that remain relatively intact. Hippocampal volume reductions are linked with poorer memory performance in the methamphetamine users. At the same time, a 7% volume increase occurs in the brain's white matter, suggesting an inflammatory response to chronic drug use.

Dr. Paul Thompson tells the New York Times that the effect of methamphetamine abuse is akin to that of a forest fire.

The first high-resolution M.R.I. study of methamphetamine addicts shows "a forest fire of brain damage," said Dr. Paul Thompson, an expert on brain mapping at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We expected some brain changes but didn't expect so much tissue to be destroyed."

The actual research paper is available on the web and reports that the average length of time using methamphetamine (MA) was 10.5 years and brain volume losses ran as high as 10%.

The MA abusers had used the drug (primarily by smoking) for 10.5 years on average, beginning in their mid-twenties. They consumed ~3 gm MA per week, having used MA on most of the 30 d before entering the study. The groups reported similar alcohol use (Table 2). Most of the MA abusers but only two of the controls, however, smoked tobacco cigarettes. All analyses were run with and without six MA subjects who reported remarkable levels of mari-juana use (more than one joint per week or a history of marijuana dependence, as determined by the SCID-I interview). Although p values changed slightly, this did not affect whether each result was statistically significant, so we present results for the full sample.

As South Park character Mr. Mackey says "Drugs are just bad, mmm'kay?"

You can even go hear Mr. Mackey tell you:

"Now as I was saying, drugs are bad. You shouldn't do drugs. If you do them, you're bad, because drugs are bad, mkay? It's a bad thing to do drugs, so don't be bad by doing drugs, mkay? That'd be bad, because drugs are bad, mkay?"

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 July 20 12:39 PM  Brain Addiction


Comments
Fly said at July 20, 2004 9:34 PM:

So will this an early adapter test group for new biotech to repair damage or enhance brain function? (Parkinson and Alzheimer Diseases will be test groups for aging brains.)

t said at November 28, 2004 11:11 AM:

my comment is more a ? than a comment.i did meth for about 9 years of my life and haven't now for about the same amount of time. about 5 months ago i had a fall and i was admitted to a psyche hospital because i have a history of bi-polar disorder.two weeks into the stay the doctors sent me to an m.r.i. and discoverd that my white matter was completly diffused and i was afflicted with severe dementia and a host of other symtoms. they ruled that it was not a psyche problem but a medical problem. so since then i have had 4 more m.r.i.'s and the white matter is still difussed could this be a residual long term side effect of my years of abuse? any help or knowledge of this would be really appreciated.

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