Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Brain Pollution and the Real Reason You Shouldn’t Use Drugs


Methamphetamine Addict (Baseline Surface)
 
Substance Abuse (Baseline Surface)
 
Long Standing Alcohol Abuse (Baseline Surface)
 

Studying the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain has clearly been one of the most informative and fascinating parts of my work. I had a sense growing up that drugs and alcohol weren’t helpful to my overall health. I might add, this notion was helped along by getting drunk on a six pack of Michelob and half a bottle of champagne when I was sixteen years old – I was sick for three days. After that, I’ve been lucky enough to stay away from drugs and alcohol. After doing this work there’s no way you could get me to do marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, PCP, inhalants or any more than a glass or two of wine or beer. These substances damage the patterns in your brain, and without your brain you are not you.

There is really quite a bit of scientific literature on the physiological effects of drug abuse and alcohol on the brain. SPECT Scans have demonstrated a number of abnormalities in substance abusers in brain areas known to be involved in behavior, such as the frontal and temporal lobes. There are some SPECT similarities and differences between the damage we see caused by the different substances of abuse. I’ll discuss the differences in drug abuse patterns below. There tends to be several similarities seen among classes of abused drugs. The most common similarity among drug and alcohol abusers is that the brain has an overall toxic look to it. In general, the SPECT Scan studies look less active, more shriveled, and overall less healthy. A "scalloping effect" is common amongst drug abusing brains. Normal brain patterns show smooth activity across the cortical surface. Scalloping is a wavy, rough sea-like look on the brain’s surface. I also see this pattern in patients who have been exposed to toxic fumes or oxygen deprivation. My research assistant says that the drug brains she has seen look like someone poured acid on the brain. Not a pretty site.

SPECT can be helpful in evaluating the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain. On 3D surface brain images, several substances of abuse appear to show consistent patterns. For example, cocaine and methamphetamine abuse appear as multiple small holes across the cortical surface; heroin abuse appears as marked decreased activity across the whole cortical surface; heavy marijuana abuse shows decreased activity in the temporal lobes bilaterally and heavy alcohol abuse shows marked decreased activity throughout the brain. These findings tend to improve with abstinence, although long term use has been associated with continued SPECT deficits seen years after abstinence. SPECT can be helpful in several ways in drug and alcohol abuse. First, 3D surface SPECT brain images of drug and alcohol abusers can be used in drug prevention education. Second, SPECT studies can help break though the denial that often accompanies substance abuse. When one is faced with their own abnormal cerebral perfusion it is hard to remain in denial. Third, SPECT may help evaluate if there is an underlying neuropsychiatric condition that needs treatment.

 

Effects of Smoking Marijuana


18 y/o – 3 year history of 4 x week use. Underside surface view. Decreased pfc and temporal lobe activity
16 y/o — 2 year history of daily abuse. Underside surface view. Prefrontal and temporal lobe activity
 
38 y/o — 12 years of daily use. Underside surface view. Decreased pfc and temporal lobe activity
28 y/o — 10 years of mostly weekend use. Underside surface view. Decreased pfc and temporal lobe activity
 

In our experience, the effects of smoking marijuana use typically cause decreased activity in the posterior temporal lobes bilaterally. The damage can be mild or severe, depending on how long a person used, how much use occurred, what other substances were used (nicotine is a powerful vasoconstrictor) and how vulnerable a particular brain is. For more information see Dr. Amen’s article High Resolution Brain SPECT Imaging in Marijuana Smokers with AD/HD, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Volume 30, No. 2 April-June 1998. Pgs 1-13.

 

Side Effects of Marijuana Off and On


underside surface view, off THC. Decreased pfc and temporal lobe activity
underside surface view, on THC. Severe overall decreased activity
underside active view, off THC. Increased deep left temporal lobe activity
 
underside active view, on THC. Overall calming of activity
top-down active view, off THC. Patchy increased uptake
top-down active view, on THC. Overall calming of activity
 

This 57-year-old physician had abused marijuana for 30 years. We performed this SPECT series because he had been unable to stop using without feeling very angry, irritable, agitated and anxious.

The first study (those images in the right column) was performed after he came to the clinic intoxicated from 3 straight days of heavy usage. The second study (those images in the left column) was performed after he abstained from marijuana usage for 1 month.

Notice the study without marijuana shows decreased temporal lobe activity (likely from the chronic marijuana usage), but also patchy increased uptake, especially increased activity in the deep left temporal lobe (often associated with anger, irritability and anxiety). The study with heavy marijuana usage shows marked overall decreased activity, especially in the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes (associated with attention, memory and motivational problems) but also there is a decrease in the overactive areas noted in the "off marijuana" study.

This scan series argues for the possibility of "self-medication," but unfortunately this medication has the side effect of causing the potential for long term damage to his brain.

 

Long Term Effects of Heroin & Methadone


Normal view. Top down surface view. Full, symmetrical activity
39 y/o — 25 yrs of frequent heroin use. Front on surface view. Marked overall decreased activity
40 y/o, 7 yrs on methadone. Heroin 10 yrs prior. Top down surface view. Marked decreased overall activity
 

Long Term Effects of Heroin & Methadone

 

Long Term Effects of Cocaine & Methamphetamine


52 y/o – 28 yr hx frequent meth use. Top down surface view. Multiple holes across cortical surface
24 y/o — 2 yr hx of frequent cocaine use. Top down surface view. Multiple holes across cortical surface
 
28 y/o – 8 yrs heavy meth use. Front on surface view. Marked overall decreased activity
36 y/o, 10 years frequent meth. Top down surface view. Multiple holes across cortical surface
 

Long Term Effects of Cocaine & Methamphetamine

 

Effects of Long Term Alcohol


top-down surface view
underside surface view
 
front on surface view
right side surface view
 

Effects of Long Term Alcohol. marked overall decreased activity

 

Alcohol Abuse and Brain Trauma


underside surface view. 48 y/o — 22 years of daily use with history of past head injury. Marked scalloping overall decreased activity
front on surface view. 48 y/o — 22 years of daily use with history of past head injury. Marked scalloping overall decreased activity
 
44 y/o — 18 years of daily use. Underside surface view. Marked overall decreased activity
45 y/o — 25 year history of daily abuse. underside surface view. Marked overall decreased activity
 

Alcohol Abuse and Brain Trauma

 

Hope for Healing Alcohol, Drug Abuse, Cocaine & Meth On and Off Drugs and Alcohol


top-down surface view. During substance abuse
top-down surface view. A year drug and alcohol free
 
underside surface view. During substance abuse
underside surface view. A year drug and alcohol free
 

Effects of drug abuse and alcohol abuse vs one year substance free.Notice the overall holes and shriveled appearance during abuse and marked improvement with abstinence

 

Effects of Heavy Nicotine & Caffeine Abuse


underside surface view. Marked decreased overall activity
 

45 y/o — 27 year history of heavy use. Smoking 3 packs of cigarettes and drinking 3 pots of coffee daily

 

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