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SALT LAKE CITY — People who have a history of using methamphetamine have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life, a new study shows.
A group of researchers at the University of Utah hypothesized the correlation between the two after learning that animals exposed to binge administrations of the drug experienced damage to an area of the brain that is associated with Parkinson’s.
With the help of the Utah Population Database and a database provided by Intermountain Healthcare, researchers looked at residents' medical records who had a history of methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse and assessed how likely they were to get Parkinson’s disease, lead researcher Glen Hanson said.
“When we looked at that, we found females were as much as six to seven times more likely to get Parkinson’s if they’d used methamphetamine, and males were about two to three times more likely,” Hanson said. “The gender bias surprised us, because they said in animal studies there didn’t seem to be a female difference in terms of how the drug affected them, and we found a strong difference.”
Parkinson's usually shows up at a later age, 60s and 70s, so when people get older, the damage they had when they were younger comes back to haunt them and makes them more vulnerable to this disease.
–Glen Hanson, lead researcher
The researchers first studied the effect of methamphetamine on Parkinson’s disease in comparison with cocaine.
“Cocaine and the amphetamines, while they’re both really powerful stimulants, affect brain biology in a different way,” Hanson said. “When we compared the two, we found that folks who had a history of cocaine dependence did not have any suggestion of Parkinson’s disease.”
Although there were hundreds of thousands of people who had been dependent on methamphetamine, researchers winnowed the group down to those who had never fallen victim to any other substance abuse, Hanson said.
The researchers ended up analyzing about 5,000 Utahns over the age of 30 who’d been exclusively addicted to methamphetamine/amphetamines in the past.
“Parkinson’s usually shows up at a later age, 60s and 70s, so when people get older, the damage they had when they were younger comes back to haunt them and makes them more vulnerable to this disease,” Hanson said.
The difference between men and women’s reactions to methamphetamine is cause for further research, Hanson said.