New research by scientists at the University of Cambridge suggests that chronic cocaine abuse accelerates the process of brain ageing. The study found that age-related loss of grey matter in the brain is greater in people who are dependent on cocaine than in the healthy population.

Brains of 120 people with similar age, gender and verbal IQ were scanned. Half of the individuals had a dependence on cocaine while the others had no history of substance abuse disorders. The researchers found that the rate of age-related grey matter volume loss in cocaine-dependent individuals was significantly greater than in healthy volunteers.

The cocaine users lost about double brain volume per year as compared to healthy volunteers. The decline in brain volume was most prominent in the prefrontal and temporal cortex. These regions of the brain are associated with attention, decision-making, and self-regulation as well as memory.

The scientists also highlight concerns that premature ageing in chronic cocaine users is an emerging public health concern. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that cocaine is used by up to 21 million individuals worldwide.

This research clearly highlights the need for preventative strategies to address the risk of premature ageing associated with cocaine abuse. Young people taking cocaine today need to be educated about the long-term risk of ageing prematurely.

By Ammara Hashmi