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Meth’s influence becomes clearer

New research from UCLA suggests long-term methamphetamine use destroys areas in the brain that control memory, reward and emotion.

There is little research on the long-term effects of methamphetamine and that is why Dr. Edythe London and others are doing just that at UCLA. London, a professor in residence, built the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s brain-imaging center in the mid-’90s.

Now, London uses brain imaging with other researchers at UCLA to map what meth does to abusers. She was spurred to meth research in the late ’90s when she arrived at UCLA to find the drug was “a big West Coast problem.”



Five years later, the problem is worldwide, London said, and “meth is the most abused drug worldwide, next to cannabis (marijuana).” Asia is the new hot spot, London said, “with much more psychosis,” occurring because of younger users.

In the study, London and her colleagues published in the national Journal of Neuroscience, 22 people in their 30s with a strong methamphetamine habit were compared to 21 people their age who do not use.




The users compared to nonusers were found to lose 8 percent of the tissue from their hippocampus, where the memory is created. They also lost 11 percent of the tissue in the limbic region, which provides mood and reward, according to the study.

The deficiencies are most likely because of the drug, London said. “I would have expected to see some problems.”

The research could help explain why former Nevada City resident Mike Ford told The Union in a January jailhouse interview that he was having memory problems after years of methamphetamine use. Ford is currently in state prison for passing checks to pay for his use.

London and her colleagues are currently doing more meth research using brain imaging.

“We’re looking at the relationship between how well people concentrate or focus,” when strung out on meth, London said. The same study group is being used.

One reason long-term meth research is lacking is because of the drug use pattern of its users, London said. Many meth users consume other drugs and that makes them ineligible for the study groups.

To use multi-substance abusers would spoil the purity of the study, London said. Her study group uses meth to the exclusion of almost all other drugs.

According to the national drug institute, recent research has shown chronic methamphetamine users can have strokes, have mood disturbances and be delusional. Methamphetamine also inhibits the movement of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain for motor control, emotion, pain and pleasure, according to the University of Texas Addiction Science Research and Education Center.

The drug abuse institute said research showed people still having trouble transporting dopamine into neurons three years after they were off the drug. The loss of dopamine mirrors the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease but they do not actually get Parkinson’s, the university said.


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