Meth: What it does To The Brain
Research conducted by Dr. Nora D.Volkow and published in the March 2001 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry indicates that methamphetamine impairs the brain's ability to resist repeated use of the drug. Volkow's research shows that methamphetamine users have fewer dopamine RECEPTORS in their brains than nonusers. With continued abuse, the reward center in the brains of meth addicts will not respond to any stimuli except more meth. In the 2001 Brookhaven National Laboratory article "Methamphetamine Delivers 'One-Two' Punch to the Brain," Volkow noted that such research "may help explain why drug addicts lose control and take drugs compulsively."
In another study headed by Volkow and published in the December 2001 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, users with damaged dopamine receptors were reexamined after a period of abstinence from the drug. The participants in the study were longtime abusers of methamphetamine, reporting at least two years of continued use for at least five days per week. Changes in their brains were measured in two ways: 1) using brain-imaging techniques, and 2) using their scores on tests of various physical and intellectual abilities.
In the April 2002 edition of "NIDA Notes," Patrick Zickler summarized the results of this second study. Heavy methamphetamine abusers who managed to remain drug-free "for at least nine months showed substantial recovery from damage to the dopamine transporters but not from impairments in motor skills and memory." In other words, the pictures of the recovered addicts' brains looked more like the brains of non-meth users, but their physical and intellectual performance remained low. Zickler quoted Volkow as saying that the changes in the brains of heavy methamphetamine abusers "are roughly equivalent to 40 years of aging." Furthermore, people who use meth may run a greater risk of developing Parkinson's disease as they age. The bottom line is that methamphetamine abuse can cause lasting brain damage.