03:34pm Thursday 21 November 2019

Methamphetamines and brain damage

UniSA is researching whether methamphetamine damages the brainThey believe long-term use of methamphetamine – known as ‘ice’ or ‘crystal meth’ – may be the source of irreparable central nervous system damage.
Dr Chris Della Vedova from UniSA’s School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences says methamphetamine use in Australia is the highest in the English-speaking world.
“What’s so concerning about methamphetamine is it’s so heavily used in Australia – with approximately 20 per cent of Australians aged 20-24 years having used methamphetamine,” Dr Della Vedova says.
“This illegal stimulant is an addictive drug that increases alertness, motor activity and mood. However, repeated use can cause violent behaviour, paranoid psychosis, brain damage and even death. It’s quite concerning the type of damage that can occur with regular use, particularly in teenagers where the cortex of the brain hasn’t fully formed yet.”
Dr Della Vedova and his colleagues Professor Jason White and Dr John Hayball are particularly interested in the effects of methamphetamine use on the immune system.
“When you get a bacteria or virus, the immune system kicks in and kills it off. What we think happens with these drugs is that part of the immune system thinks there’s something dangerous it needs to take care of … but when it can’t kill a virus or bacteria it can cause damage to your own cells, which in this happens in the brain and central nervous system,” he says.
Dr Della Vedova says damage that occurs to the brain from heavy methamphetamine use remains after stopping use of the drug and effectively ages the brain.
“In one study, researchers found that even in individuals who hadn’t used the drug for some time, the brain damage observed was equivalent to that seen over 40 years of normal ageing,” he says.
“We’re interested in the effect chronic methamphetamine use has on regions of the brain that are associated with Parkinson’s Disease, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”
The researchers need current and former methamphetamine users to take part in their study. Participants can be assured the study is completely confidential and names are not used. It involves a visit to City East Campus, where participants will give blood, receive an ultrasound of their brain, and answer a basic health and drug survey. They will be reimbursed $15 per hour for their time. Anyone interested in taking part should contact Dr Della Vedova on (08) 8302 2267 or email chris.dellavedova@unisa.edu.au

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