Australia and New Zealand have two to five times higher rates of illegal stimulant use than anywhere else in the world, according to a senior Australian researcher.
While recreational drug use is viewed by some as harmless fun, many users fail to comprehend the long-term effects that illegal substances may have on their health. Scientists fear this trend could become cause for concern, creating a future health problem in the years to come.
“People who have used illegal stimulants in the past have a change in a brain region that’s right in the middle of their brain called the susbtantia nigra,” Dr Gabrielle Todd, senior researcher at the University of South Australia, told reporters.
International research has found otherwise perfectly healthy people who displayed this brain abnormality were 17 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
The findings have prompted Australians researchers to launch their own investigation into the relationship between illegal stimulant use and an increased risk of developing the degenerative brain disease.
Marijuana smokers, ecstasy and amphetamine users and non-drug users are amongs the four groups undergoing investigation.
Ultrasound technology will be used to examine the substantial nigra of participants, who will also undergo testing of their motor skills – which includes walking, speech and balance.
Neurologists fear that what they will find is those who use illegal substances – even on the odd day or night – could be causing their bodies to run too fast and burn out before their time though a process called excito-toxicity.
Researchers from Flinders University and UniSA hope the study’s findings will become a powerful public health tool to deter both current and future users of illegal stimulants.
A national household survey conducted in 2010 found 1.9 million people had tried the drug ecstasy, with almost one million having experimented with methamphetamines.