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Brains on Cocaine "Age Faster"

Cocaine use causes premature memory loss and mental decline, say scientists.

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Coke users, book your nursing homes early.
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By McCarton Ackerman

04/25/12

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Cocaine use could make you lose your marbles much earlier than planned. According to findings from the University of Cambridge, middle-aged people dependent on cocaine demonstrate symptoms of older brains, such as cognitive decline and memory problems. Also, people who are addicted to the drug seem to lose twice the brain volume each year as non-users. "We have a growing number of older people seeking treatment for drug problems," says Karen Ersche, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge. "The Baby Boomer generation is a generation that has used more drugs than any generation before them, so they actually may suffer from an accelerated aging process, and we need to take this into account when we provide treatment." Using MRIs to measure gray matter volume in 120 adults who were of a similar age, gender and verbal IQ, but half of whom had cocaine dependency, the research showed that the cocaine-dependent adults had 3.08 milliliters per year in gray matter loss, compared to 1.69 milliliters in those without substance abuse. Ersche says the brain atrophy may be a result of oxidative stress, which is caused by the production of unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species; when the body can't remove these molecules or repair the damage they cause, disease can result. According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, cocaine is used by 21 million people worldwide, about 1% of whom become dependent on the drug.

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