Anti-psychotics likely to cause brain damage, new study claims

Anti-psychotic drugs are likely to cause brain damage, according to a new study.

The results challenge the widely-held view that schizophrenia itself causes brain structural changes, such as less brain grey matter, bigger ventricles and larger cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) spaces, claim researchers.

The results are published in an edition earlier this year of the Psychological Medicine journal.

Researchers reviewed magnetic resonance imaging studies which had examined brain changes in patients on anti-psychotics and those of patients not on the drugs.

More than half (14) of 26 studies showed that the brains of patients on anti-psychotics had shrunk.

Of the 21 studies of patients not on anti-psychotics, five suggested brain size decreases. But no differences were reported in three studies of non-drug (known as ‘drug-naïve’) patients who had been ill for a long time.

The results are “remarkable”, claim the study’s researchers, because they contradict research purporting to rule out anti-psychotic drug-induced effects on brain size.”

Most studies of drug-naïve patients did not report or detect differences in total brain volume, global grey matter or CSF volumes between patients and controls, including three studies of untreated patients with long-term illness,” stated the researchers, including Dr Joanne Moncrieff, of the Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London.

Upto now few studies have investigated primarily the effects of anti-psychotic treatment on brain structure.

“Overall there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that antipsychotic drug treatment may play a role in reducing brain volume and increasing CSF or ventricular spaces,” the researchers wrote. Further research is urgently required, stated the paper, entitled A Systematic Review of the Effects of Antipsychotic Drugs on Brain Volume.

Dr Moncrieff, also a London NHS psychiatrist, told “The psychiatric community still seem unworried by this [the possible effects on the brain of anti-psychotic medication] and continue to focus on the idea that schizophrenia is causing the brain damage.”

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