Taking drugs can cause long-term brain damage, according to research published yesterday

Methamphetamine - popularly known as speed, crystal or ice - can cause brain damage similar to that found in people suffering from Alzheimer's disease, plus epilepsy, brain tumours and strokes. The drug could alter the chemistry of the brain on a long-term, and possibly permanent basis, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Seizures of amphetamines (including methamphetamine) have increased in Britain by 167 per cent in the past five years, Home Office figures show. Either snorted or swallowed, it is the most widely used illegal drug after cannabis.

Californian researchers examined the brain chemical levels of 24 healthy people and 26 former abusers of methamphetamine, who had stopped taking the drug for between two weeks and 21 months. They found reduced levels of n-acetyl-aspartate in the abusers in the region of the brain that controls the subconscious regulation of voluntary movement.

The author of the report, Dr Thomas Ernst, said: "Many brain diseases associated with brain cell or neuronal damage or loss consistently have shown decreased n-acetyl-aspartate. The reduced concentration in the drug users' brains suggests neuronal loss or damage."