Cocaine's a hell of a drug, said the late R&B singer Rick James. What more apt catchphrase could there be to describe the harmful effects of this powerful stimulant. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that cocaine is used by up to 21 million individuals worldwide, with about 1 per cent of these individuals becoming addicted.
Cocaine, which is a purified extract from the leaves of coca plant, has adverse long term negative effects on the heart, brain and emotions.
A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge suggests that people who are addicted to cocaine age dramatically faster than their non-drug using peers. According to the results of the study in which the brains of people with similar age, gender and verbal IQ were scanned, the cocaine users lost about 3.08 ml brain volume per year, compared to only about 1.69 ml brain volume lost per year by healthy volunteers.
Of the 120 people enrolled in the study, 60 were dependent on cocaine while the other 60 had no history of substance abuse disorders.
Our brains experience a loss of grey matter as we age. Grey matter is linked to functions such as memory, attention, decision-making and self-regulation.
This is the first study to associate premature aging of the brain with chronic cocaine abuse. Earlier studies have revealed the psychological and physiological changes seen in middle-aged cocaine-dependent individuals.
Commenting on the study findings, Karen Ersche, of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge, said, "Our findings clearly highlight the need for preventative strategies to address the risk of premature aging associated with cocaine abuse. Young people taking cocaine today need to be educated about the long-term risk of aging prematurely."
The study was reported April 24 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
by RTT Staff Writer
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