Single Photon Computerized Tomography shows marked brain damage cause by different substances or brain trauma. Do drugs and alcohol cause brain damage? The scan pictures say YES! A picture really does say a thousand words.
A HEALTHY BRAIN
On SPECT, the surface of a healthy brain looks smooth with full and symmetrical blood flow and activity. This tells us that the brain is working the way it is supposed to.
AN UNHEALTHY BRAIN
This SPECT image of an unhealthy brain reveals many “holes” on the surface, which represent areas of low blood flow and poor activity because of damage from substance and alcohol abuse.
SPECT scans of substance abusers have demonstrated many abnormalities in brain areas known to be involved in behavior, such as the frontal and temporal lobes.
On brain SPECT images, there are some similarities as well as differences in the damage we see caused by various substances of abuse. The most common similarity is that the brain has an overall toxic look to it; the SPECT studies look less active, more shriveled, less healthy overall and have a scalloping effect – a wavy, rough sea-like appearance on the brain’s surface. This pattern is also seen in patients who have been exposed to toxic fumes or have had oxygen deprivation. Normal brain patterns, on the other hand, show smooth activity across the cortical surface.
On the 3D surface brain images, several substances of abuse can show consistent patterns:
- Cocaine and methamphetamine abuse appear as multiple small areas of decreased activity across the cortical surface.
- Heroin abuse appears as marked decreased activity across the whole cortical surface.
- Heavy marijuana abuse shows decreased activity in the bilateral temporal lobes and prefrontal cortex.
- Heavy alcohol abuse shows marked decreased activity throughout the brain
These findings can improve with abstinence, although long-term use has been associated with continued deficits seen on SPECT, even after years of abstinence.
SPECT images can be helpful for prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse:
- SPECT images can help break though the denial that often accompanies substance abuse by showing the actual damage caused by the drug or alcohol abuse.
- SPECT can reveal any underlying neuropsychiatric condition that also needs treatment.
MARIJUANA’S EFFECT ON THE BRAIN
Take a look at the brain of a 16-year-old with 2 year history of daily abuse. There is marked decreased prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe activity. Note, that this was taken long before the present potency of cannabis today that can be 30 TIMES the potency of the 60’s and 70’s.
EFFECTS OF LONG TERM ALCOHOL USE
Here we have a 38-year-old with 17 years of heavy weekend use. Multiple areas lacking blood flow on cortical surface.
EFFECTS OF HEAVY NICOTINE & CAFFEINE ABUSE
Even heaving drinking of coffee and smoking tobacco cause damage to a human brain.
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
Here we see the effects of drug and alcohol abuse – specifically alcohol, cocaine, and meth
ALCOHOL ABUSE & BRAIN TRAUMA
48-year-old with 22 years of daily use and history of past head injury.
LONG TERM EFFECTS OF METHAMPHETAMINE
Observe the brain of a 52-year-old with 28 year history of frequent meth use. Multiple areas lacking blood flow on cortical surface.
LONG TERM EFFECTS OF HEROIN
Lastly, check out the brain devastation of a 39-year-old with 25 years of frequent heroin use. Marked overall decreased activity.
Thank you to Dr. Daniel Amen for his life work! Doctor Amen is one of the top brain experts and psychiatrists in the world. He has scanned and treated NFL players, Miley Cyrus, and hundreds of thousands of people at his multiple clinics. Also, Daniel Amen, MD is also a best selling author of multiple brain health books. You can get more information at https://www.amenclinics.com/approach/why-spect/