What’s the News: Anxiety. Insomnia. Hallucinations. Methamphetamine’s effects on the human brain are well documented, but researchers know relatively little about how the drug affects the body on the molecular scale. Looking at fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), scientists have detailed how meth disrupts chemical reactions associated with generating energy, creating sperm cells, and regulating muscles. Most interestingly, they discovered that meth-exposed fruit flies may live longer when they eat sugar. “We know that methamphetamine influences cellular processes associated with aging, it affects spermatogenesis, and it affects the heart,” says University of Illinois entomologist Barry Pittendrigh. “One could almost call meth a perfect storm toxin because it does so much damage to so many different tissues in the body.”
Poke a snail with a stick and it remembers for a day. Poke a snail with a stick after you’ve given it methamphetamine and it remembers for much longer.
Getting gastropods hooked on meth perhaps sounds cruel, but Barbara Sorg and her team are among those scientists trying to figure out how the drug works in the brain to produce intense connections that feed the addiction cycle. In a study forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the scientists show that, in snails at least, meth makes it hard to forget things that happened while on the drug.
Here’s the test: The snails Sorg studied can breathe two ways, through their skin underwater and also through a breathing tube they can deploy when they surface. The team kept two groups of snails—one on meth, one not—in separate tanks of shallow water. And if the snails tried to surface and breathe that way, the scientists would poke them.