British researchers recently found that cocaine use may accelerate the aging of the brain. In a study of 60 cocaine users and 60 non-users, the users lost nearly twice as much brain volume per year as the healthy subjects.
“As we age, we all lose gray matter,” study author Dr. Karen Ersche, of the University of Cambridge, explained. “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.”
The increased decline in brain volume in the cocaine users was most evident in the regions of the brain associated with attention, decision-making, self-regulation, and memory. This finding may explain why middle-aged chronic cocaine users may exhibit the symptoms of old age.
The research points to the need to educate young adult cocaine users about the risks of premature aging. Ersche added that it also sheds light on the accelerated aging of older adults who have abused cocaine since their youth. “It is time 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.