Meth Users More Likely to Develop Parkinson's Disease

December 17, 2014
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Methamphetamine users are about 3 times more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than individuals who do not abuse the illegal drug.

Methamphetamine users are about 3 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than individuals who do not abuse the illegal drug, according to new research from the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare.

The connection between Parkinson’s disease and meth use is related to dopamine, as stimulants like meth can damage dopamine neurons, which can result in dopamine-related disorders like Parkinson’s.

The study authors examined medical records across Utah between 1996 and 2011 and separated the patients into 3 groups: a meth cohort, a cocaine cohort, and a population unexposed to illicit drugs or alcohol. Then, the researchers tested which group was at the greatest risk of developing Parkinson’s disease when compared to the sex- and age-matched control group.

While the cocaine users showed no elevated risk of developing Parkinson’s, the meth users saw an almost 3-fold increase in such risk. That risk was greater among meth-using women, who were nearly 5 times more likely to develop the neurological disorder than women who were not abusing meth, wrote the study authors, who noted that more evidence is needed to corroborate those findings.

First study author Karen Curtin, PhD, said women may be drawn to meth because it is cheap, causes weight loss, and gives more energy to the consumer. Additionally, previous studies have shown that women become addicted to drugs quicker and are more likely to relapse than their male counterparts.

"Normally, women develop Parkinson's less often than men; however, women may not achieve the same improvement in symptoms from medications or surgery,” Dr. Curtin said in a press release. “If meth addiction leads to sharply increased incidence of Parkinson's disease in women, we should all be concerned."

Methamphetamine use can impair verbal learning and reduce motor skills. Physical reactions to the drug include dental problems, skin sores, and increased blood pressure.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease may experience problems with cognitive skills, swallowing, and sleep, and they may also develop depression.