It’s part of being a teenager: To believe that one is immortal and “because you can get a prescription for it, amphetamine-like drugs like Adderall, can’t really hurt you.”
New findings in animal research presented at neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience held in San Diego in November, show that amphetamine abuse during adolescence permanently changes brain cells. The study showed that drug exposure during adolescence, but not young adulthood, altered electrical properties of brain cells in the cortex.
While many children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) benefit from taking these medications when closely supervised by parents and physicians, other teens, particularly adolescents 12 to 17 years old, a period when the brain continues to develop and mature.
Researchers a the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, repeatedly treated adolescent and young adult rats with the drug; in adulthood the rats’ pre-frontal cortex, a region important in memory, decision-making, and impulse control, were examined.
Researchers found abnormal responses to electrical stimulation and insensitivity to the brain chemical dopamine in adolescent – but not young adult – rats. The researchers noted that because brain cells communicate using both electrical and chemical signals, these findings may indicate drug induced disruptions in brain functions.
Earlier research, presented at the October annual meeting of the Society for Neurosciences in Chicago, found deficits in working memory in adult rats exposed to amphetamines in adolescents. “Our new findings reveal that this change in cognitive behavior may be due in part to long-lasting changes in the function of neurons in the pre-frontal cortex,” reported senior author Joshua Gulley, PhD. “We hypothesize that this is due to amphetamine disrupting the normal processes of brain development.”
Gulley, who led an earlier study with graduate student Jessica Stanis, also reported that “Animals that were given the amphetamine during the adolescent time period were worse at tasks requiring working memory than adult animals that were given the same amount of amphetamine as adults. This tells us that their working memory capacity has been significantly altered by that pre-exposure to amphetamine.”
Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.