Saturday, 17 March 2012

The effects of methamphetamine on an unborn child

Methamphetamine, known as Crystal Meth, Speed, Ice, or Crank is becoming increasingly popular as a recreational drug. It can be injected, smoked, snorted, ingested orally or administered anally. Initially, it causes a surge of dopamine to be released, producing an intense rush of pleasure or prolonged sense of euphoria. It is a potent and addictive stimulant.

However, in adults, chronic use will lead to psychotic behaviour, including paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, extreme aggression, delusions, hallucinations and even death. Women who use methamphetamine during pregnancy endanger the life and health of their baby as well as their own.

In 2005, researchers at the University of Toronto found that a single prenatal dose of methamphetamine is enough to cause dire consequences for the baby. It's not just addicts whose babies are at risk, but the children of casual drug experimenters as well.

Some of the possible effects on a foetus who has been exposed to methamphetamine include low birth weight, smaller than normal head circumference, cleft lip and/or palate, increased incidences of foetal distress, premature birth, congenital heart defects, mental and physical disabilities, and increased chance of miscarriage. In addition, babies born to meth addicts show drug withdrawal symptoms after birth, including shaking, drowsiness and breathing problems.

The developing foetus is exquisitely sensitive. It is vulnerable to possible DNA damage from methamphetamine exposure. Young men, sons of female addicts, become addicted faster if they try methamphetamines, than those whose mothers never used the drug.

Methamphetamines have adverse effects on the placenta, the organ which supplies blood and nourishment to the foetus through the umbilical cord. The drug restricts the blood vessels causing a lack of oxygen and nutrients which are transferred from the mother to the baby. It may cause placental abruption, (the premature separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus).

The only study to date of long-tern effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure took place in Sweden. At birth, 1 and 4 years, the average weight, height and head circumference of the methamphetamine-exposed children was below those of their peers.

At age 8, there was a significant correlation between the amount and duration of methamphetamine exposure prenatally and aggressive behaviour and difficulty with social adjustment.

At ages 14-15, the achievement of these children in Mathematics, Language and sports was statistically below those of their classmates.

However, there were other environmental factors which may have influenced the outcome: stress, number of siblings, maternal alcohol use, and a higher number of foster care placements.

Statistics show that many female meth addicts also smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day and smoked cannabis regularly during their pregnancy. There is a need to understand the combined impact of these drugs on the physical, cognitive, and emotional development of these children.

There can be no argument that methamphetamines and all illicit drugs are harmful to a developing foetus and to its mother as well. A responsible pregnant woman will check all drugs, even over-the-counter medications, with her doctor before taking them. Then, there will be no cause for regrets in the future, and someday her child will thank her.

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