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Methamphetamine appears to lessen damage to the brains of rats and gerbils that have suffered strokes, a new study by a group of University of Montana scientists shows.
"Methamphetamine is a drug that has been shown to exacerbate stroke damage or make it worse when administered before a stroke," Dave Poulsen, an UM research assistant professor, said in a news release. "But we have seen roughly 80 to 90 percent protection of neurons when administered after a stroke."
During the study, Poulsen and his team kept thin slices of rat hippocampus — the part of the brain used for memory and learning — in culture for nine days. The slices were then deprived of oxygen and glucose for 1 1/2 hours, mimicking stroke conditions.
The team used a special dye to reveal the damage.
When low doses of meth were administered, the scientists saw less damage in the stroke slices than the non-stroke slices.
"Don't ask me how — we are trying to figure that out," Poulsen said. "But methamphetamine is clearly protective."
Nebraska Researchers Eye Vaccine as Meth Addiction Treatment Meth Abuse Top Drug Problem, Law Enforcement Officials Say The researchers found that small amounts of meth created a protective effect, while higher doses increased damage.
They also learned that lower doses of the drug helped lessen damage up to 16 hours after a stroke. This discovery was significant because the current leading clot-busting drug used for strokes must be administered within three hours, said Poulsen, a faculty member of UM's Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The researchers also used live gerbils in their study. The animals that suffered strokes became twice as active and agitated as normal gerbils. But those given a low dose of meth were calmer, and dissection showed that their neurons were as intact as those in animals that hadn't had strokes.
In contrast, nontreated animals that suffered strokes showed profound neuronal loss.
Poulsen said he stumbled upon the apparent protective aspect of meth while helping other UM researchers study the toxicity of the drug on the lungs.
"The reality of it is, we initially used meth and stroked the animals to try to increase the damage, and surprisingly the cultures looked better," he said. "We repeated it four times, and it worked again and again."
The work is preliminary, and more research is needed to confirm and expand the findings; however, Poulsen said someday humans may use meth to lessen stroke damage.
He will present the findings during the Oct. 14-18 Society of Neuroscience conference in Atlanta.
Partners in the study included the Montana Neuroscience Institute of St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center and UM's Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience.
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