Amphetamines speed ageing process: study

An Australian study at the University of Western Australia has linked amphetamine use to premature ageing.

Addiction to ice shatters lives, it also has a shocking impact on the addict's physical appearance.

An Australian study has now linked amphetamine use to premature ageing after finding illegal drugs like 'ice' and 'speed' dramatically age the cardiovascular system.

The University of Western Australia study, published in BMJ journal Heart Asia, found chronic amphetamine use resulted in the hardening of the arteries.

Further, it found this ageing of the cardiovascular system occurs at an ever-increasing rate as the user gets older.

"The implication from the present work is that recurrent habitual amphetamine abuse ages the cardiovasculature, and likely the whole organism generally," the authors wrote.

Arterial stiffening is a sign of cardiovascular ageing and is often thought to be a "surrogate measure" of biological age, says lead author Associate Professor Stuart Reece from UWA's School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Some scientists theorise that ageing begins with changes in the blood vessels where stem cells are found. These changes promote arterial stiffening, which contributes to development of hypertension.

Professor Reece says the study could explain the disturbing physical transformation addicts experience after years of crystal meth use.

A few years ago a US anti-drug campaign, produced by, released before-and-after photos of meth addicts which showed the "most horrific" loss of weight and obvious ageing of the skin.

"Suddenly the whole picture makes sense," Ass Prof Reece told AAP.

The researchers at UWA examined 55 amphetamine users, 107 tobacco users, 68 methadone users and 483 non-smokers over a five year period between 2006 to 2011.

People with known cardiovascular disease were not included.

Using tonometry technology, like that used on the eye to test for glaucoma, the researchers monitored the participants radial pulse to measure arterial stiffness, which gave them a biological age.

The results of the study found people who habitually used amphetamines aged much faster than the non-addicts. On average, their age increased by about 25 per cent.

So at 40-50 years that equals an extra decade.

When the results were adjusted to account for known causes of the hardening of arteries, the effects remained.

Professor Reece, who treats hundreds of addicts every year, says getting people off drugs actually makes them biologically younger, reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke.

Crystal methamphetamine, or ice, is considered by some as a party drug and they think that they can get away with using it recreationally.

But ice is highly addictive and many of the recreational users will go on to become addicts, said Ass Prof Reece.

Even those weekly "little tipples can actually build up and actually damage your stem cells progressively," he added.

Source AAP

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