Research about the long-term effects of methamphetamine use


The University of South Australia have released research which shows that methamphetamine use is associated with long-lasting changes in movement which can resemble Parkinson's disease and changes in the movement-related regions of the brain.

Previous research used sonographic imaging to show that a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, is abnormally enlarged in young adults with a history of stimulant drug use. This abnormality is a well-established risk factor for Parkinson's disease.

Researchers at the University of South Australia measured this region of the brain in people who had previously used amphetamines, compared to three control groups: ecstasy users; cannabis users; and non-drug users. The researchers also assessed subjects using the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale, which is a tool used to measure the progression of Parkinson's disease.

The study found that the substantia nigra brain region was significantly larger among people who had used amphetamines compared to ecstasy, cannabis and non-drug users. The amphetamine only group also scored significantly higher than the control groups on the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. These outcomes indicate an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease later in life.

In further research the University of South Australia surveyed 252 young adults aged 18-34 years to find out their level of knowledge about the long and short term effects of methamphetamine use. They found that less than 20% knew about the effects of methamphetamine on movement and risk of stroke, and knowledge of the effects of methamphetamine on the heart and kidneys was also poor.

In response to this research they developed a new health campaign called 'Don't let meth take hold'. The campaign aims to increase knowledge about the long-lasting effects of methamphetamine use on the brain and on movement.

The campaign is designed to show the audience how methamphetamine use can impact on daily life and the ability to perform simple tasks. The campaign is designed to show what having impaired hand and brain function is like when using common objects.

'Our research shows that 47% of people have no idea that methamphetamine has any long-lasting consequences on health. This campaign seeks to change that.'

Associate Professor Gabrielle Todd, University of South Australia

The Preventing methamphetamine use through knowledge and awareness campaign is available for partner organisations to use and can be viewed.

NSW Health in collaboration with the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) and local agencies has a suite of resources including videos, factsheets and free interactive online education modules to help you and your community learn more about crystal methamphetamine or ice and its effect on individuals and communities. Visit Breaking the Ice for more information.

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