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Taking Amphetamines for ADHD May Raise the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Amphetamines have a host of side-effects, and now new research shows that taking them increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease, an incurable neurological disease that causes tremor, stiffness and difficulty walking.

How did they come to this conclusion? Researchers looked at almost 66,348 people as part of the Multiphasic Health Checkup Cohort Exam. They asked them whether they had ever taken two common amphetamines, Benzedrine or Dexedrine, or any drugs for weight loss. Then they followed them for an average of 38 years to see how many developed Parkinson’s disease.

During follow-up, 1,154 people were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – and those who had used Benzedrine or Dexedrine were 60 percent more likely to have the disease. On a more upbeat note, people in this study who had used weight loss medications were at no higher risk for Parkinson’s disease.

Why would taking amphetamines increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease?

This study doesn’t necessarily show cause and effect, but it does suggest a link between amphetamine use and Parkinson’s disease. On the other hand, there are some reasons why using amphetamines could boost the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease isn’t completely understood, but it’s linked with imbalances of a brain neurotransmitter called dopamine. Amphetamines alter the way dopamine is processed within the brain, which may account for the higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Who takes amphetamines? Doctors use amphetamines to treat conditions such as narcolepsy, a disorder where a person falls asleep suddenly during the day, and ADHD in children. If this link is confirmed, few parents will be enthusiastic about giving their kids a medication that increases their risk of Parkinson’s disease.

The bottom line?

Larger studies are needed to look at the link between amphetamines and Parkinson’s disease. Until then, approach these medications with extreme caution. There are very few indications for using amphetamines where the risks don’t outweigh the benefits. Parents who have kids taking amphetamines for ADHD should talk to their doctor about alternative treatments.
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