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Drug abuse leads to long standing changes in the brain

Methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant drug, whose abuse has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world, causes long-term changes in the human brain that are associated with impaired memory and motor coordination, according to a study published in theAmerican Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers found that these effects are seen even in methamphetamine addicts who have been off the drug for 10 months or more.// A second study by the same research group reveals additional long-lasting brain changes caused by the drug, including an unexpected increase in cellular activity in certain areas of the brain.

"These findings show a direct relationship between changes in brain chemistry in methamphetamine abusers and functional changes in behavior," says Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "The results underscore the serious nature of methamphetamine abuse and emphasize the need to alert users and potential users to the long-lasting, profound effects of this drug."

Methamphetamine, also known as "speed," "meth" or "chalk" (and, in its smoked form, as "ice," "crystal" or "glass"), can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally. The drug, often made in clandestine laboratories from inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients, is widely abused by diverse groups, including young adults who attend "raves" or private clubs, motorcycle gang members, male and female commercial sex workers, and bisexual and homosexual men.

In one study, researchers led by Dr. Nora D. Volkow of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook used an imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to measure the levels of molecules called dopamine transporters in the brains of 15 former methamphetamine abusers and 18 healthy comparison subjects (controls). The number of dopamine transporters (DAT) marks the presence of nerve cells that are
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