Methamphetamine Addiction Recovery
Why meth is so Damaging to the BrainMethamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine and to the neurotransmitter dopamine, the very same neurotransmitter that is involved in driving addiction.
Both cocaine and methamphetamine prolong the action of dopamine in the synapses (the junctions between nerve cells) by blocking the re-uptake or reabsorption of dopamine by the signalling or sending nerve cell, but unlike cocaine crystal meth also increases the release of dopamine from the signalling nerve cell in the synapses so it leads to much higher concentrations of dopamine in the synapses than cocaine; furthermore methamphetamine is not quickly metabolised or removed from the body so it affects linger for longer.
In as little as one hour 50% of cocaine can be removed from the body however it can take 12 hours to remove 50% of methamphetamine; this prolonged excessive level of dopamine in the synapses is one of the things that makes meth so damaging to the brain, in really simple terms you can think of crystal meth as overworking and literally wearing-out the circuits in the brain that run on dopamine.
But the brain is repairableWe now know however that the brain has remarkable abilities to repair and regenerate after drug induced damage, the brains ability to repair and regenerate is called neuroplasticity. Within 14 months of abstinence the brain can recover most of the damage caused by crystal meth, however some brain activity take two years to fully recover; in my practice I’ve also met people that after more than a decade seem to have not fully recovered but these were always people that maintained an unhealthy junk food diet, smoked a packet of cigarettes a day et cetera and these unhealthy lifestyle practices are capable of shutting down the brains ability to regenerate.
In my practice I put people on an intensive programme of supplements, diet, physical and brain training exercises to increase neuroplasticity and I believe it’s possible to heal the brain in just a third of the useful time; in 2012 I developed a treatment to increase my own neuroplasticity and stimulate recovery of the lost brain function I had suffered due to decades of living with bipolar disorder. In just three months I felt a return of all lost functions in fact some of my brain functions improved to a level better than they were some 30 years ago (see BDNF/Neuroplasticity Protocol); following my own success and further research I have been using this neuroplasticity treatment protocol since 2013.
Actually cocaine, crystal meth and bipolar disorder have something in common, they can all lead to damage to the function of the circuits and regions in the brain that run on dopamine, in bipolar the brain spontaneously makes elevated levels of dopamine during the manic phases, I often make the joke that the good thing about bipolar disorder is at least you get free cocaine from time to time. It was through my work on treating my own and my patients bipolar disorder that I learnt a lot about how to repair the brain particularly the dopaminergic systems and it turns out what I learnt was transferable to other situations such as cocaine or meth damage that leads to downgraded dopaminergic function. If you’re interested I used cocaine and other drugs from my mid-teens to my early 20s but have never taken crystal meth.
Stimulating Neuroplasticity after Meth UseAs already mentioned the effects of long-term meth and/or cocaine use is that the dopaminergic synapses become progressively less sensitive to dopamine so that normal levels of dopamine now feel inadequate so when we are not on the drug we may feel depressed and low. In the beginning of treatment we can boost dopamine levels with supplements that boost the manufacture of dopamine however this is only a temporary fix and a long-term goal is to regenerate the dopaminergic synapses and in the brain so that they function well all by themselves. I have never seen the use of natural remedies to boost dopamine lead to the same kind of desensitising effects and dependency that drugs cause.
Repairing damaged dopamine neurones and circuitsMy BDNF/Neuroplasticity Protocol consists of:-
1/ taking a ‘stack’ of natural remedies to boost a protein in the brain called BDNF that stimulates the growth of new synapses and specifically regenerates dopaminergic circuits, remedies with this capability include scutellaria, Magnolia bark, NAC cysteine, polygala, citicholine CDP see How to Regenerate Your Broken Brain
2/ combining the remedies with a specific anti-inflammatory diet that creates the right physiological environment inside the brain to enable regeneration to occur,
3/ performing specific physical exercises (HIIT exercise) that boost neuroplasticity/BDNF production,
4/ performing specific brain training exercises to improve neuroplasticity in the specific parts of the brain damaged by meth use.
Restoring the brains microglial cells and balancing inflammationBesides damaging the neuron cells in the brain meth abuse also damages brain cells called microglial cells, these cells protect and defend the neurones from infections they also remove damaged neurons. When microglial cells become overactive they can assault healthy neurons further damages the brain, overactive microglial cells is a manifestation of increased inflammation in the brain or vice versa; the ‘foggy-brain’ feeling so common with long-term meth use is a classic indication of neuro-inflammation. Constant overactivity of the brains microglial cells can also lead to the death and loss of large numbers of these precious cells.
So another goal of regenerating and repairing the brain is to reduce inflammation and dampen down overactivity in the microglial cells, nutrients that assist this include:-
- Apigenin and luteolin, these are bioflavonoids found in celery, parsley, artichoke basil and green peppers, add these herbs and green peppers to smoothies and eat lots of celery in soups, cooking celery releases these bioflavonoids.
- The Chinese herbs scutellaria has anti-inflammatory effects on the brains microglial system, this herb also has direct dopaminergic effects.
- Resveratrol, this is a relatively expensive antioxidant polyphenol abundant in some berries including black grapes and red wine extract. You can buy French red Wine extract which is quite an economical way to obtain this valuable nutrient.
- Rutin, this is a bioflavonoids present in citrus fruit, it can also be purchased as a supplement.
- Curcumin is the principal antioxidant in the yellow spice turmeric, until a few years ago it was very difficult to get therapeutic quantities of curcumin to make it across the digestive wall, through the liver and across the blood-brain barrier, to day however the combination of new superstrength curcumin (BCM 95) with a pepper extract called piperine has made it possible to deliver truly effective doses of curcumin to the human brain. Curcumin also boosts BDNF and has dopamine boosting effects.
- EGCg catechins are antioxidant polyphenol abundant in green, black and white teas. There are anti-inflammatory, protect and restore microglial health. You can buy EGCg supplements but the simple smart way to consume catechins is to consume large amounts of good quality tea.
Effects of cocaine on specific parts of the brain and how to repair them.Meth and cocaine reduce the grey matter in specific regions of the brain called insula and right inferior frontal gyrus.
The insula is responsible for our sense of being in our bodies, we can stimulate regeneration in the insular with the practice of meditation that includes focusing on and becoming aware of our body; the version of mindfulness meditation I teach specifically includes focusing on the body for this reason; exercises that involve focusing on body awareness and being in a body will also stimulates neuroplasticity in the insular, such exercises include tai chi, the slow mindful practice of yoga and pilates and some aspects of martial arts practice that involve focusing on body awareness and being in our body.
The insular is also involved in social and emotional processes particularly the ability to discriminate between choices that will lead to positive versus negative outcomes. What this means in practice is when we think about using or someone offers us drugs a well-functioning insular helps us to be more fully aware of the negative consequences of using; as opposed to what happens when you have a poorly functioning insular and in those moments of temptation we may lose all sense of the negative outcome.
The inferior frontal gyrus is important in inhibition and impulse control both of which are also important in preventing drug use relapse; we can strengthen the inferior frontal gyrus with some meditation techniques such as Tibetan Dzogchen medication[i], this is a very deep and advanced form of mindfulness.
[i] The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation Yi-Yuan Tang, et al Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16, 213–225 (2015) doi:10.1038/nrn3916