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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 00:08 GMT
Drug users warned about brain risks
Nightclubbers
Ice is common on the US dance scene
US scientists have found that taking the drug methamphetamine - or "Ice", can damage the brain and increase the risk of Parkinson's Disease.

Scientists from the US Department of Energy found that people who abuse the drug have fewer receptors for dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasure.

Meth abusers would be predisposed to such neurodegenerative disorders as Parkinson's Disease

Nora Volkow, lead researcher

In an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, they suggest that this can reduce the ability of users to 'say no' to the drug and may explain why they become addicts.

However, in a follow-up study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, they suggested this damage can be reversed if users abstain from the drug.

Nevertheless, the authors maintain that because the effects of methamphetamine are so strong users may find it very hard to give up.

Powerful effect

Methamphetamine has a powerful effect on the brain, producing an intense rush which is followed by between two and 36 hours of stimulation, excitation, talkativeness, feelings of well being, confidence and alertness.

The drug releases an enormous amount of dopamine, activating all available receptors in the brain.

However, over time the drug becomes the only stimulant which is capable of boosting activity in a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex.

Disruption of this area is associated with obsessive and compulsive behaviours, which, according to the authors, make it very hard for addicts to resist the drug.

They add that damage to dopamine receptors, which play a key role in movement, can leave individuals at risk of developing Parkinson's or other similar conditions.

"These changes could mean that meth abusers would be predisposed to such neurodegenerative disorders as Parkinson's Disease," said Nora Volkow, leader researcher on the study.

Abstinence

However, in a follow-up study the researchers found that users who abstained from the drug for at least nine months showed significant improvements.

They found that dopamine receptors were able to regenerate during this time and repair much of the damage.

However, improvements in cognitive and motor function abilities were not found to be significant.

But Ms Volkow said: "These findings have implications for the treatment of methamphetamine abusers because they suggest that protracted abstinence and proper rehabilitation may reverse some of the meth-induced alterations in dopamine cells."

A spokeswoman for the UK charity DrugScope said: "Methamphetamine, a common drug on the dance scene in the United States, is uncommon in the UK.

"Its effects are similar to amphetamine, or speed, but tend to be more intense and longer lasting."

She said taking drug, which is highly addictive, increased the risks of having a heart attack and was associated with sleeplessness, confusion and depression.

See also:

28 Mar 00 | Health
Amphetamine brain damage measured
01 Nov 01 | England
Drugged mice trials 'despicable'
20 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Charity calls for 'relaxed' drug laws
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