Chronic cocaine use may accelerate aging of the brain, a new study suggests. The study found people with cocaine dependence have greater levels of age-related loss of nerve tissue in the brain called gray matter.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge compared brain scans of 60 people with cocaine dependence with those of 60 people with no history of substance abuse. People who used cocaine lost about 3.08 milliliters of brain volume a year, nearly double the rate of healthy people, HealthDay reports.
The decline in brain volume in cocaine users was most pronounced in the areas of the brain associated with attention, decision-making, memory and self-regulation, the researchers noted.
“As we age, we all lose gray matter. However, what we have seen is that chronic cocaine users lose gray matter at a significantly faster rate, which could be a sign of premature aging. Our findings therefore provide new insight into why the [mental] deficits typically seen in old age have frequently been observed in middle-aged chronic users of cocaine,” researcher Dr. Karen Ersche said in a news release.
She noted the findings highlight the importance of educating young people, who take cocaine, about the long-term risk of aging prematurely. She added the study also shows that accelerated aging from cocaine use also affects older adults. “Our findings shed light on the largely neglected problem of the growing number of older drug users, whose needs are not so well catered for in drug treatment services. It is timely for health care providers to understand and recognize the needs of older drug users in order to design and administer age-appropriate treatments,” she said.
The study appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.