Meth Users Face Higher Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

By Paul Gaita 12/17/14

Researchers found that meth users are three times more likely to develop the disease, with woman being most at risk.

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In addition to the myriad of debilitating side effects associated with methamphetamine use, a new study suggests that users are three times more at risk for contracting Parkinson’s disease, with female users facing a greater risk than men.

Researchers from the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare looked at more than 40,000 records in the Utah Population Database, which compiles a variety of medical, genealogical information on Utah families, as well as inpatient and outpatient data from their own records, all dating from 1996 to 2011. The records were then separated into three groups: those who indicated that they had used meth, those who had used cocaine, and a control group, selected at random, whose records indicated that they had not used any illegal drugs.

When the control group was matched to the meth and cocaine user groups according to age and sex, the results confirmed the findings of a previous study of more than 250,000 California hospital discharge records, which indicated that meth users had an increased risk of Parkinson’s. Why women are at higher risk than men remains unclear, noted the study’s senior author, Glen R. Hanson, interim dean of the University of Utah School of Dentistry. “Typically, fewer females use meth than males do. [But] there appears to be a gender bias toward women in the association between meth use and Parkinson’s.”

Additional studies have suggested that the prevalence of meth use in Utah and other Southwestern areas may have some influence on the study results. “Female users in Utah may get involved with meth because it’s seen as a relatively cheap and effective way to lose weight and have more energy,” said study author Karen Curtin, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah.

Studies have also shown that women initially use drugs at a lower rate than men, but escalate more rapidly and are at greater risk for relapse. Whatever the underlying cause, the study results point to a serious concern for female meth users. “If meth addiction leads to sharply increased incidence of Parkinson’s disease in women, we should all be concerned,” added Curtin.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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