Methamphetamines cause brain changes similar to Parkinson’s Disease

Young adults who have used methamphetamine as little as five times have been found to have symptoms and brain changes that resemble Parkinson’s disease.

That’s the worrying scientific discovery that has been translated into a new TV advertisement to educate the community about the long-lasting effects of methamphetamine usage on health.

The public health campaign, which is likely to grace our screens next year, is a tangible result of our partnership with the University of South Australia. This partnership has allowed researchers to further their work in the area of methamphetamine usage and its impact. The advertisement shows a person fumbling as they try to pick up objects including their phone and knocking coffee over as they grasp for it.

Associate Professor Gabrielle Todd who has led the research says she decided to undertake this study as a way to raise awareness of the adverse health impacts of methamphetamine usage with the aim of ultimately changing community attitudes and decreasing its usage.

‘I was worried about the long-lasting effects of methamphetamine on the brains of young people,’ Associate Professor Todd says.  ‘1.3 million Australians have used methamphetamine and approximately half are unaware that there are long-lasting effects of the drug on their health.’

During the study it emerged that research participants themselves were concerned about the impacts that were shown to them and were calling to greater community awareness.

‘Many of our participants were concerned about what methamphetamine had done to their brain and wanted to help us to educate young people about the harms that this drug can cause,’ ‘Essentially, many methamphetamine users wanted to help others to avoid using this drug.’

Associate Professor Todd

The research tested how methamphetamine users move in a laboratory and clinical setting including looking at their gait, balance, hand function and speech as well as the brain regions associated with movement. Researchers also used anonymous online surveys to explore the prevalence of movement problems among methamphetamine users and community knowledge about the effects of these drugs.

The resulting campaign and its messages are currently being evaluated and the response has been positive with the health departments of several Australian states expressing an interest in potentially airing the campaign next year.

The collection of more widespread baseline data about community knowledge and attitudes to methamphetamine usage is planned pre and post release of the TV campaign.