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Meth abuse damages the brain, study finds

By Michael Lewis
Franklin Press Staff writer

August 03, 2004

In this brain scan of a meth abuser, areas in red show the highest damage, with the blue shades showing the least. Source: Dr. Paul Thompson, UCLA
Not only is it eating up Macon county - it's eating away the brains of its users. A recent study from the University of California at Los Angeles shows that methamphetamine abusers had 11 percent less gray matter than the average human being.

The study, written by Dr. Paul Thompson and his UCLA colleagues, used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans to map the deteriorated brain tissue in meth abusers.

Methamphetamine's grip on the globe is far reaching. In this brain scan of a meth abuser, areas in red show the highest damage, with the blue shades showing the least. Source: Dr. Paul Thompson, UCLA. According to worldwide 2003 United Nations studies, over 35 million people use amphetamines - meth included. That's far more than the 15 million snorting cocaine, and the 10 million shooting up heroin. Macon County has heard the footsteps of meth addiction, but the onslaught of court cases involving the drug show that meth dependence is on its way to reaching epidemic proportions. Law enforcement and public health are waging war to treat abusers and bring meth makers to justice - but the battle still rages. In the UCLA study, 22 subjects who had used or abused meth were compared with 21 healthy, aged-matched control subjects. The results were startling. According to the report, a significant loss of gray matter was present in the meth users studied. The hippocampus, directly involved with memory and retention, was also smaller - 7 percent smaller than those of the healthy subjects.

Brain damage from chronic meth abuse is comparable to or greater than the gray matter deficits found in patients with dementia or schizophrenia.
Still think meth or other drugs enable you to think creatively? Think again. Meth abusers often perform poorly on tests of verbal memory skills, and score lower on tests measuring problem solving, abstract thinking and motor skills. Not that the public needed any further evidence that meth is poisonous, but the study suggests methamphetamines may be highly neurotoxic to brain tissues that are linked to memory and recall.

The UCLA study is one of the first of its kind, so it's not yet clear whether the damage is progressive, or if the effects can be treated.
There's no evidence so far showing reversal of the damage after quitting meth.

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