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Methamphetamine Use Raises Risk of Parkinsonís

Abusing methamphetamine and similar stimulants is associated with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to a study published online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence on July 26, 2011.

Based on experiments with laboratory animals, researchers have long known that excessive levels of methamphetamine can damage dopamine neurons, the brain cells whose death gives rise to the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s. The new study is the first to link methamphetamine abuse in young adulthood with the development of Parkinson’s in middle age or later.

Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, examined the records of more than 40,000 people hospitalized for methamphetamine or amphetamine use in the state of California between 1990 and 2005. All were at least 30 years of age.

Led by Russell C. Callaghan, Ph.D., the scientists compared PD diagnoses among methamphetamine users with two other groups. The first group included more than 200,000 people admitted to the hospital for appendicitis and served as a comparison to people in the general population hospitalized during the time period studied. The second group was made up of more than 35,000 people hospitalized as a result of using cocaine, another drug that, like methamphetamine, affects dopamine levels in the brain.  The researchers identified the diagnosis of PD by hospital records or death certificates.


  • The risk of developing PD was 1.76 times higher in people hospitalized for methamphetamine or amphetamine abuse than in those hospitalized for appendicitis.
  • People who used methamphetamine had almost 2.5 times the risk of PD than those who used cocaine.
  • Cocaine users did not have an increased risk of PD.

What Does it Mean?

The study focused on people who were moderate to heavy users of methamphetamine and amphetamine stimulants. Although the researchers were not able to collect information on the details of their drug use, the people included in this study had abused these stimulants sufficiently enough to have it formally diagnosed when being admitted to a hospital (and prior to their PD diagnosis).  There is no evidence that the low doses of amphetamines prescribed for medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy contribute to PD.

Methamphetamine abuse is strongly discouraged by health professionals. The potential higher risk for PD may further support this standpoint. The clinical use of stimulants in low doses was not studied in here; however, since medication registries are widely available worldwide, future research assessing the link between stimulant use and risk for PD may be warranted.

Reference: Callaghan, R. C., Cunningham, J. K., Sykes, J., & Kish, S. J. (2011). Increased risk of Parkinson's disease in individuals hospitalized with conditions related to the use of methamphetamine or other amphetamine-type drugs. Drug and alcohol dependence. Ahead of Print. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.06.013

Source Date: Aug 08 2011