The term “neurotoxicity” can be defined as damage to neurons in the brain that is not reversible. Methamphetamine, known as “meth” or “crystal meth” on the streets, interacts with dopamine and serotonin nerve terminals in the brain. Unfortunately, these interfere with the regular release of neurotransmitters leading to neurotoxicity, and this can be extremely dangerous.

Meth neurotoxicity may cause memory problems, delayed thoughts, significant mood swings, unpredictable behavior, and sleep disruptions. At its worst, it can lead to an onset of Parkinson’s disease. It can also lead to lasting emotional, cognitive, and physical problems.

Meth and Brain Damage

Consistent and repeated use of meth will interfere with how the brain moves around, facilitates, and reabsorbs serotonin and dopamine. It can have neurotoxic effects on the nerve terminals for the above-mentioned chemical messengers, which leads to significantly low levels of these neurotransmitters.

According to Frontiers in Psychology, meth neurotoxicity is caused by oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and excitotoxicity. Excitotoxicity is the result of how meth interacts with glutamate levels in the brain. Those with chronic high levels of glutamate in their brains might experience neurotoxic effects.

Oxidative stress is caused by mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidation of dopamine in the brain. Unfortunately, this could have toxic effects and cause the death of neurons. Lastly, neuroinflammation is a response caused by damage in the central nervous system. It is directly linked to the neurotoxic impact of meth use.


Effects of Meth Neurotoxicity

Meth is a potent drug that causes a euphoric and intense buzz.

Hand behind a floating drawing of a brainHigh doses of meth may also cause hallucinations, aggression, psychosis, compulsive behaviors, paranoia, muscle twitching, tremors, and violent behavior.

Abusing meth will lead to damage to the structure of the brain and change how it functions, which brings neurotoxic effects.

Generally speaking, this damage will occur only in those who repeatedly abuse the drug and use substantial amounts.

However, it’s worth noting that a single high dose that causes psychosis can lead to permanent damage.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns of these side effects for brain damage caused by meth, which includes:

  • Anxiety
  • Impaired verbal learning
  • Reduced coordination
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Confusion
  • Inability to regulate emotions

As described above, the onset of Parkinson’s disease could also be a side effect of meth neurotoxicity. Also, symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and a weakened immune system could occur. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) also notes that meth neurotoxicity can cause other symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Working memory impairment
  • Poor concentration
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis that is similar to schizophrenia
  • Impulse control problems
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly
  • Impaired decision-making abilities
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills

Is it Reversible?

Unfortunately, some of the brain damage sustained due to heavy meth use is not reversible, but complete abstinence from meth that lasts more than a year can partially reverse some symptoms. Meth neurotoxicity is extremely dangerous and leaves long-lasting scars even after use of the drug has stopped. The best way to overcome this is by stopping meth use now or avoiding it altogether.

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