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Canadian Researchers Prove Link between Methamphetamine Abuse and Parkinson’s

People who use methamphetamine are at increased risk to develop Parkinson’s disease, probably because chronic methamphetamine use can damage dopamine systems and Parkinson’s occurs as a result of insufficient dopamine in the brain.

Canadian researchers at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) looked at the hospital records of roughly 300 000 people admitted to California hospitals between 1990 and 2005 and confirmed a long held suspicion – that using methamphetamine does result in an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease later in life.

Of the hospital records examined, 40 000 involved admissions related to amphetamine use, 35 000 involved admissions related to cocaine use and 208 000 involved admissions related to appendicitis, with no known addiction present. All study subjects were at least 30 years of age at the time of their admission.

The results:

  • Over the 16 years of the study, those patients who were hospitalized for conditions related to amphetamine use had a 76% increased probability of coming down with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Those admitted for conditions related to cocaine use had no increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. 

Scientists have long suspected that methamphetamine abuse might lead to Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease occurs from a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain and chronic meth abuse is known to damage systems in the brain necessary for dopamine production.

Lead researcher Dr. Russell Callaghan of CAMH commented on the study results, saying "This study provides evidence of this association for the first time, even though it has been suspected for 30 years. The findings are significant because meth and similar stimulants are the second-most commonly used illicit drugs in the world. The current study will help us anticipate the full long-term medical consequences of such problematic drug use.”

The researchers stress that no link has been found between people who use low doses of amphetamine like drugs on a prescription basis (for ADHD and other conditions) and an increased risk of Parkinson’s.  People abusing amphetamines recreationally, they say, tend to take far greater doses than those people who use the same types of drugs therapeutically.

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