The effects of a methamphetamine overdose are very similar to those seen after a traumatic brain injury, according to researchers who examined the effects of "club drugs" in rats.
"We showed that a single overdose of meth can be as damaging as a head-on motor vehicle collision in the brain," co-author Matthew Warren, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, told Reuters Health.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that is chemically related to amphetamine, but is more potent and more harmful to the central nervous system.
Warren and his associates analyzed changes in the proteins in rodents' brains after traumatic injury and decided to investigate whether methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, might cause similar changes.
MDMA is a psychoactive drug that is chemically similar to methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. The results of animal studies have also shown it has toxic effects on the nervous system.
The researchers presented their findings at the Society for Neuroscience's conference in San Diego last month.
The researchers studied "cytoskeletal" proteins, which make up the cellular skeleton of the brain responsible for holding the organ together, Warren explained.
About 12 percent of the proteins in an area of the rodents' brains known as the cortex showed the same changes after a methamphetamine overdose and a traumatic brain injury.
When the researchers looked at the effects of an MDMA overdose, they found damage in the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in memory formation.
"These data and the previous 4 years of research suggest some drugs, especially methamphetamine, cause changes that are not readily reversible," principal investigator Dr. Mark Gold, at the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute, said in a press release. "Future research is necessary for us to determine when or if methamphetamine-related brain changes reverse themselves."