Brain Damage Caused By Meth Looks a Lot Like Schizophrenia

By John Lavitt 11/20/14

Australian researchers found that meth caused the same structural damage seen in the brains of schizophrenics.

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A new study published by Australian researchers from the University of Sydney reveals how the methamphetamine-induced sensitization of the brain looks a lot like schizophrenia.

By examining alterations to the prefrontal cortex, the researchers were surprised to find the neurological changes induced by methamphetamine use to be extraordinarily similar to the brains of schizophrenics. The structural damage and protein alterations seen in schizophrenia appeared in the brain after methamphetamine-induced sensitization.

Published in the Journal of Proteome Research, the ultimate focus of the study was more focused on the implications for the maintenance of psychotic disorders than on methamphetamine treatment. A proteome is the entire set of proteins expressed by a specific organism at a certain time. More specifically, it is the set of expressed proteins in a given type of cell or organism at a given time under defined conditions. By examining the proteome layout in the prefrontal cortex, damage done by genetic psychotic disorders or external abuse factors like drugs and injuries can be gauged.  


In the study, the Australian researchers worked with rats. They found that repeat administration of methamphetamine to the rats led to a progressive increase in locomotor activity in the form of a behavioral sensitization. Such a behavioral sensitization is similar to the underlying neurochemical changes driving traditional psychoses like schizophrenia. The behavioral changes are the direct result of alterations to the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

The original aim of the current study was to investigate changes to protein expression in the prefrontal cortex in male rats sensitized to methamphetamine. Twenty percent of the neural proteins affected by the methamphetamine have previously been implicated in the neurobiology of schizophrenia. From synaptic regulation to mitochondrial function, the changes in the brain caused by methamphetamines had only been seen before in the brains of schizophrenics. Future treatment of schizophrenia could be improved by avoiding the stimulation associated with methamphetamine use.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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