Individuals who make protracted use of recreational drug amphetamine, popularly known as speed, ice, and ecstasy, may be at risk of speeding up the biological ageing of their heart, new research suggests.
Amphetamine is a stimulant and is associated with cardiovascular system effects, including speeding up the heart rate, sharply increasing blood pressure and boosting the risk of stroke, heart attack and aneurysm rupture.
Long-term use of amphetamine sends the sympathetic nervous system and production of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone adrenaline into overdrive, the study said.
The researchers found that the effects amphetamine were seen in both men and women and irrespective of other potential risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
“The study implies that recurrent habitual amphetamine abuse ages the cardiovasculature and likely the whole organism generally. It is, therefore, conceivable that stimulant abusers do physiological and cardiovascular harm,” said Albert Stuart Reece, associate professor at the University of Western Australia.
However, “it’s not clear if this damage is reversible either, they add, suggesting that their findings add even greater impetus to the need to tackle the “global stimulant epidemic,” Reece added.
For the study, published in the journal Heart Asia, the team measured the flow of blood through the brachial artery in the upper arm and the radial artery in the forearm of 713 people in their 30s and 40s, in order to assess the degree of arterial stiffening (arteries harden as the body ages).
The results showed that the cardiovascular system of amphetamine users seemed to be ageing much faster than that of smokers and methadone users.
These findings held true even after taking account of other known cardiovascular risk factors, such as weight and cholesterol levels, suggesting that the heart itself is ageing faster than expected, the researchers noted.