Friday, 9 March 2012

Amphetamines and derivatives closely linked to Parkinson's

They have all kinds of names in Spain, depending on the location, the manner and the urban tribes that use them: anfetas, pirulas, pastis, cristal, speed ... but whatever they're called here or anywhere, amphetamines, methamphetamine and other related substances are used the world over as recreational drugs, despite the proven health damage they cause. One of the most serious effects, according to a study carried out in California, is the way in which they multiply the risk of Parkinson's Disease in their users. Parkinson's is a degenerative disease in which are involved the very same kind of neurons that are attacked by these drugs. The research's authors say that, in any case, the results they have obtained relate only to the illegal use of the substances and not to those cases that are medically prescribed.>>>

The research, carried out by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) of Toronto, Canada, analysed the hospital records of thousands of patients admitted after consuming amphetamines or their derivatives and followed their evolution along 16 years. The most salient point is that these patients present 76% higher risk of acquiring Parkinson's Disease than the population in general.

Previous studies involving rats had already shown that use of these drugs impacts on the body's production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that generates feelings of 'happiness' and 'reward', but the lack of which is closely associated to Parkinson's. So scientists had suspected for decades that the pejorative effect of amphetamines, but no study had tracked as many patients as this one, nor for such a long period.

"Although suspicions have been around for about thirty years, this research is proof positive of the relationship," says Dr. Russell Callaghan, chief researcher at CAMH and principal author of the study that was published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependance. The study began by covering almost 300,000 hospital records in California, where use and abuse of amphetamines and related drugs is high. Some 40,000 cases of admittances for abuse between 1990 and 2005 were then extracted and analysed.

The patients' evolution was monitored closely and then compared not only to that of the general population but also to users of coacine, another stimulant with similar effects as amphetamines but acting differently on the brain. The results are similar to those obtained with animals: amphetamines and their derivatives cause specific damage on the neurons that produce dopamine, which in turn cause a higher risk of Parkinson's Disease.

The study team explained the results like this: if 10,000 people with amphetamine dependency were monitored over a period of ten years, 21 of them will have developed Parkinson's Disease by the end of the period. On the other hand, only 12 people of the general population would fall victim to the disease. Callaghan and his colleagues pointed out, too, that their estimation of the risk factor may have been lower than the reality, as there was also the possibility that several amphetamine users might have "fallen by the wayside" without access to health care, and will not have been part of the study.

The head of Spain's Instituto Cajal and the Centre for BioMedical Research on Neurodegenerative Disease, Doctor Rosa Moratalla, says that the CMH study has produced a very important piece of rsearch, which confirms her own investgations on the subject, carried out on mice.The results of her own study conclude that the brain looses between 15% and 20% of the neurons producing the essential dopamines.

The effect is "irreversible," says Dr. Moratalla, and is especially damaging after using the methamphetamine called cristal or hielo, which are stronger than amphetamines or ecstasy. Methamphetamine can be used intra-venously, sniffed or orally as pills or tablets. It causes early or accelerated ageing, tooth and gum decay and loss of teeth, not to mention significant cognitive problems.
Copyright©Alberto Bullrich 2012

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