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Researchers conducted MRI brain scans of 51 teen and 54 adult chronic methamphetamine abusers. They compared those scans to those of 60 teens and 60 adults who didn't use the drug. The study participants were all from South Korea.
Compared to the adult methamphetamine users, the teen methamphetamine users had greater and more widespread changes in their brains. The damage was especially evident in the frontal cortex, an area believed to be involved in people's ability to organize, reason and remember things (cognitive ability).
"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," study author Dr. In Kyoon Lyoo, of Ewha W. University in Seoul, South Korea, said in a University of Utah Health Sciences news release.
"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," Lyoo said.
"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," study senior author Dr. Perry Renshaw, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, said in the news release.
Teens typically use smaller amounts of methamphetamine than adults, so these findings suggest that it takes much less methamphetamine to cause greater damage in teens' brains than it would in adults, according to the authors of the study.
Results were published recently in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
"I think the results show it is hugely important to keep kids off drugs," Renshaw added.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Feb. 11, 2015