Scientists are on a quest to identify how the intake of particular substances affects the brains of humans. Does cannabis have the same impact on the brain as cocaine? What parts of the brain are most impacted by particular drugs? Is permanent brain damage possible? Why do some people get addicted after one or two drug uses, whilst others are able to use drugs sporadically and not get addicted? How can recovered addicts learn to say “no” to drugs the rest of their lives, even after their brains are rewired through drug use?
These are just a few of the questions that still cannot be answered with absolute certainty. However, with each research project, more information is added to the knowledge base and the closer medical professionals get to understanding how illicit drugs change brain functioning. Though this will be a long process involving one study after another, it is a quest that may eventually lead to new therapy drugs that can help addicts overcome their cravings.
Slowing and Changing Brain Activity
In January 2012, a study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt led a research team to investigate the impact of psilocybin, which is a hallucinogenic chemical found in certain mushrooms. The study on brain activity during drug use focused on tracking the continuum of responses from normal to being under the influence.1 When the study subjects used magic mushrooms, imaging technology showed brain activity decreased in the part of the brain with the densest connections to other brain areas. In other words, the psilocybin did not just slow brain activity. It interfered with the connections between sections of the brain.1 As an employer, it is easy to imagine the consequences of slowed brain activity and interrupted functioning on the ability of employees to safely manage their jobs.
A very recent study researched whether there are differences in brain responses to cocaine versus methamphetamine, using lab raised mice. The study was led by Joseph Takahashi from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. There were two sets of mice and the two groups came from different substrains to make it easier to track the differences in brain reactions to the drugs. After administering cocaine to one group and meth to another, the researchers identified differences in the response of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the Cyfip2 gene when comparing brain reactions in the two mice groups.2
It Is All About the Brain
Though these types of research projects may not seem to have much relevance to the workplace, they are important steps taken in an attempt to better understand addiction. The Australian statistics show a significant increase in drug use in 2010 following a four year period of decline. As seizures of illicit drugs and drug precursors rise, there is no doubt substances not seized will end up in workplaces. Having a better understanding of the impact of drugs on work performance is important, and it all comes down to the brain.
To facilitate administration of a drug and alcohol testing program, CMM Technology (cmm.com.au) offers a wide range of quality testing supplies. Employers can choose the type of testing equipment that best suit their workplaces, including supplies for saliva and urine drug testing and alcohol testing. They will also find critical documentation forms, including important chain of custody forms.
- Robin L. Carhart-Harris, David Erritzoe, Tim Williams, et. al. (early ed. 20 Dec 2011) Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. doi:10.1073/pnas.1119598109. 1-6.
- Jackson Laboratory. (19 December 2013). Cocaine, meth response differ between two substrains of lab mice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://bit.ly/Mx6svN.