Crystal Meth May Harm Developing Fetus

In mice, just one dose in pregnancy linked to neuro trouble in pups

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FRIDAY, July 29, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A single dose of methamphetamine, or "speed," taken by pregnant women can cause long-term neurodevelopmental problems in their babies, a new study finds.

"We've known for a while that meth abuse during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, cleft palates and other malformations, but this is the first research demonstrating that even a single exposure can cause long-term damage. It's pretty remarkable that a single low dose can have such an effect," researcher Peter Wells, a pharmacy and pharmacology professor at the University of Toronto, said in a prepared statement.

His team exposed pregnant mice to a single dose of the drug and found that offspring suffered long-term neurodevelopmental problems such as reduced motor coordination.

According to the researchers, the fetus may be vulnerable to DNA damage from methamphetamine because the fetus hasn't yet developed enzymes that protect it against destructive free radicals. Speed, or "crystal meth," enhances free radical formation.

"It's an important finding, given the increasing use of club drugs among women of childbearing age. It has clinical implications, because it shows that the fetus is exquisitely sensitive," Wells said.

He and his team plan to study women and their babies who've been exposed to methamphetamine in order to determine if the drug has the same impact in humans as it does in mice.

The findings are published in the August issue of Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about methamphetamine.

SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, July 26, 2005

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