Speed, or amphetamine, abuse is becoming more widespread across the globe.
People take the illegal drug to stay awake and energised – often at parties. But little do they know that it could be wreaking absolute havoc on their bodies, especially the heart.
A new study has found that taking amphetamine regularly ages the arteries dramatically, to the point where they resemble that of an elderly person.
It is thought that the drug interferes with stem cell functioning, which is responsible for tissue repair and renewal.
Amphetamine, also known as speed, whizz and sulph, is a Class B drug that makes people feel incredibly excited and energised and is often used in situations where they would usually get tired, such as on a night out.
The drug is associated with heart issues, including speeding up heart rate, sharply increasing blood pressure, and boosting the risk of stroke, heart attack and aneurysm rupture.
Prolonged use of the drug has also been associated with skin ageing.
A new study by researchers at the University of Western Australia discovered that amphetamine also prematurely ages the heart and arteries.
They measured blood flow through the brachial artery in the upper arm and the radial artery in the forearm of 713 people in their 30s and 40s, attending a clinic for substance misuse between 2006 and 2011.
They did this to assess the degree of arterial stiffening, which is where arteries harden as the body ages.
Each patient was asked about their drug use, and placed into one of four groups: non-smokers, smokers, amphetamine users, and methadone users.
Most of those in the amphetamine group had used within the previous week and nearly half had used just the day before.
The results showed that of all four groups, the cardiovascular system of amphetamine users seemed to be ageing much faster than that of smokers and methadone users, both in terms of pure chronological age, and over time.
These findings held true even after taking account of other known cardiovascular risk factors, such as weight and cholesterol levels.
Many physiological processes in the body start to fail over the course of the lifespan as part of the normal ageing process, said the researchers.
But on the basis of their findings, stimulant abuse seems to compound and accelerate this process.
The effects of amphetamine were seen in both men and women, irrespective of other potential risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Scientists believe amphetamines interfere with stem cell functioning – the cells involved in tissue repair and renewal – and normal cell division.
They added that the study is purely observational, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.
They concluded: “The implication from the present work is 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.”
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’.