Research Article: Hand Function is Altered in Individuals with a History of Illicit Stimulant Use

Date Published: December 29, 2014

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Verity Pearson-Dennett, Stanley C. Flavel, Robert A. Wilcox, Dominic Thewlis, Adam P. Vogel, Jason M. White, Gabrielle Todd, Kenji Hashimoto.


Use of illicit stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy are a significant worldwide problem. However, little is known about the effect of these drugs on movement. The aim of the current study was to investigate hand function in adults with a history of illicit stimulant use. We hypothesized that prior use of illicit stimulant drugs is associated with abnormal manipulation of objects. The study involved 22 subjects with a history of illicit stimulant use (aged 29±8 yrs; time since last use: 1.8±4.0 yrs) and two control groups comprising 27 non-drug users (aged 25±8 yrs) and 17 cannabis users with no history of stimulant use (aged 22±5 yrs). Each subject completed screening tests (neuropsychological assessment, medical history questionnaire, lifetime drug history questionnaire, and urine drug screen) prior to gripping and lifting a light-weight object with the dominant right hand. Horizontal grip force, vertical lift force, acceleration, and first dorsal interosseus electromyographic (EMG) activity were recorded during three trials. In trial one, peak grip force was significantly greater in the stimulant group (12.8±3.9 N) than in the control groups (non-drug: 10.3±4.6 N; cannabis: 9.4±2.9 N, P<0.022). However, peak grip force did not differ between groups in trials two and three. The results suggest that individuals with a history of stimulant use overestimate the grip force required to manipulate a novel object but, are able to adapt grip force in subsequent lifts. The results suggest that movement dysfunction may be an unrecognized consequence of illicit stimulant use.

Partial Text

Illicit use of stimulant drugs is a significant worldwide problem. The most commonly used illicit stimulant drugs are amphetamine, methamphetamine (termed ‘amphetamines’), and ecstasy. 14–53 million people worldwide reported use of these drugs within the previous year [1]. The Oceania region, comprising people primarily from Australia and New Zealand, has the highest annual prevalence of illicit stimulant use in the world [1] with ∼10% of people aged 20–29 yrs reporting use of an illicit stimulant drug within the last 12 months [2].

Object manipulation tasks were used to investigate hand function in adults with a history of illicit stimulant use. The results of our study show, for the first time, that individuals with a history of illicit stimulant use employ a different strategy to manipulate novel objects than non-stimulant users.