Methamphetamine (meth) addicts make headlines for bedraggled, repulsive mug shots, with anti-drug campaigns such as the “Faces of Meth”project out of Oregon spotlighting the devastating effects of this drug. Overall, meth use has been on the decline, perhaps in part because of such campaigns and also because of stricter regulation around the chemicals used to make meth. Still, Illinois is said to be in the middle of “America’s meth belt.” Having this title to Illinois’ city isn’t what they want therefore there is a new drug rehab in Springfield program to help those in need of combatting drug addiction.
Most meth addicts begin in their teens. The drug ages and disfigures a user so rapidly that many die in their 20’s or 30’s not from an overdose, but from the kind of organ failure and other body problems more common in someone in their 80’s.
So what it is about meth that prematurely ages users? That’s exactly what scientists from both the Italian Institute of Technology and UC Irvine set out to discover. What they found might just change the future of aging for all of us.
How Meth Ages Addicts
When researchers tested rats and mice, they found that a specific protein, known as nuclear factor kappa beta, in each cell, triggered the rapid production of ceramide (fatty lipids), which regulate energy and nutrients in the cell. As the ceramide would increase, the metabolism of the cell would speed up and the cell would die.
The research team believed the same process also causes the premature aging in humans. What’s more, a single use of meth has effects that last up to weeks longer than the high. Traditionally, when meth users give up the drug the effects are permanent: forever aged and altered from even a short use of meth.
This same research team, however, found data that might change the future face of meth.
The rats and mice in the study were later given L-cycloserine, an amino acid with some unusual properties (also currently being researched in the treatment of epilepsy). The administration of the L-cycloserine blocked the ceramide production. The animals in the study not only seemed to stop aging so rapidly, the effects of the meth seemed to even be reversed and the animals regained health, gained back weight, and in other measurable ways improved in a short time.
Though this treatment has yet to be tested on humans, the results are promising: meth users in recovery may also finally be rid of the stigma of “looking like a meth user.”
Meth is currently one of the toughest drug habits to kick. Not only is it so addictive that many users are hooked after the first try, but the premature aging it causes may make it more difficult for users to safely recover. Unlike treating alcohol or heroin withdrawal, there are currently no medications available to assist with withdrawal from methamphetamines. If this animal study proves successful in humans, meth users may at least battle addiction recovery with greater health.
Human beings have been searching for the “fountain of youth”for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The possibility of reversing the aging process has countless applications, even beyond meth addiction recovery.