Meth Damages Adolescent Brains Far More than Those of Adults

Posted on February 12, 2015

In a study with chronic adolescent and adult meth abusers in South Korea, MRI brain scans showed decreased thickness in the gray matter of younger users' frontal cortex, the area of the brain believed to direct people’s ability to organize, reason and remember things, known as the executive function. A different type of MRI, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), indicated alterations to the adolescents’ white matter, meaning possible damage to neurons–the cells that relay information via electrical signals from one part of the brain to another. The gray and white matter of chronic adult meth users showed far less damage than that of the adolescents.

The researchers found the evidence of damage to cortical thickness in the frontal cortex of adolescent users alarming.

"It's particularly unfortunate that meth appears to damage that part of the brain, which is still developing in young people and is critical for cognitive ability," says In Kyoon Lyoo, M.D., Ph.D., of Ewha W. University in Seoul, South Korea. "Damage to that part of the brain is especially problematic because adolescents' ability to control risky behavior is less mature than that of adults. The findings may help explain the severe behavioral issues and relapses that are common in adolescent drug addiction."

Meth is the one of the most widely abused drugs in Asia, but it's also a problem in the United States, with the Western region of the country experiencing the highest rates of use. Studies with rodents have shown that meth damages the brains of adult rats more than young ones, but whether that holds true in people has been cause for debate.

"There is a critical period of brain development for specific functions, and it appears that adolescents who abuse methamphetamine are at great risk for derailing that process," Renshaw says. "I think the results show it is hugely important to keep kids off drugs."

Category(s):Drug Addiction

Source material from University of Utah