MAMa FAQ's #8

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More information can be found in Crystal Meth: They Call it Ice.

How does methamphetamine cause brain damage? Can it ever heal?

The Battery Acid Effect

Methamphetamine is made using a long list of toxic chemicals, including battery acid [lithium], kerosene, anhydrous ammonia, lye, all caustic corrosive chemicals. You can't break methamphetamine down into water and carbon dioxide like you do everything else. You break it down into caustic corrosive chemicals, the biological equivalent of battery acid, kerosene, anhydrous ammonia, and lye.

Methamphetamine is taken up into the cell where it is metabolized into dihydroxybenzoic acid, dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, methoxytyramine, and hydroxyindoleacetic acid, all of which are toxic to the cell. Of course, only small amounts of methamphetamine metabolites are formed. Much larger amounts of dopamine are released into the synapse, and the dopamine has to be broken down too.

The extremely high levels of dopamine released into the synapse are eventually broken down, and the metabolites are also caustic corrosive chemicals called hydroxy free radicals. They are every bit as caustic as battery acid. Hydroxy free radicals are of the same class of chemicals that a white blood cell uses to kill bacteria. White blood cells have the machinery to control and manage these chemicals. Brain cells do not. Crystal causes the cells to make seven to ten times the normal amounts of dopamine, and so seven to ten times the normal amounts of these metabolites are also made. The brain has systems that can buffer small amounts of these chemicals, but it cannot handle the huge amounts made after a meth high.

The brain makes a brave attempt to heal after methamphetamine exposure. When an addict stops using temporarily, neurotrophic chemicals are released to rebuild the neural networks that have been damaged. These processes are related to the hyper-sensitivity to methamphetamine seen after stopping it temporarily. Relapsing addicts sometimes die from taking the same amount of methamphetamine they had previously tolerated, because they are much more sensitive to the effects of the drug after a period of withdrawal.

Gradually, over twelve to eighteen months of complete abstinence, receptor sites heal. See the third brain in that PET scan picture? The red transmission is back. The surviving Cell A's have built new dopamine transporters, and they can talk again. Cell B's have made new receptors, so they can hear, and transmission is re-established. Over twelve to eighteen months, the personality slowly heals, the depression lifts and the anxiety abates. Twelve to eighteen months. That's a long time to go around with a disconnected personality.

But even after twelve to eighteen months clean, when the cells have healed as much as they are going to, there are still residual deficits. Depending on how long and how much drug was used, some of the brain damage is going to be permanent. Some people have residual learning disability, slurred speech, memory loss, or personality changes. Often there is a residual short temper, anxiety or depression. Most recovered addicts have a residual muscle spasm, a twitch in the corner of the eye, a tremble in the back of the throat, or chattering teeth are common.



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