Prescription medications offer a wide range of benefits for multiple health problems, but like any type of drug, they can have negative consequences. A recent study reported by CNN has found that anticholinergic drugs, many of which are over-the-counter meds, can have serious effects on your brain and mental health.
These problems are more common when these drugs are used improperly, something that occurs more often with these drugs than you might imagine. Here’s what you need to know about anticholinergic drugs and the effects they could be having on your mind.
What Are Anticholinergic Drugs?
Anticholinergic drugs are those that block acetylcholine in the nervous system. This blocks this substance from being absorbed in the nervous system and through the various nerve cells in the wall. It slows the nerve impulses in the mind and helps to decrease the severity of involuntary movements in various parts of the body, including:
- Gastrointestinal tract
- Urinary tract
These types of drugs have been used for years to treat a variety of medical problems. Unfortunately, it now appears that their effects on the mind are more severe and problematic than previously believed. While many specialists have long argued the dangers of these drugs, a new study has helped illustrate that they do seriously affect the mind.
What Did The Study Find?
This study, performed by the Indiana University School of Medicine, tested the physical changes that occurred in the minds of people who took anticholinergic drugs and how they affected their cognitive abilities. They used PET scans, MRI scans, memory tests, and cognitive challenges to gauge the effects. What they found was conclusive: anticholinergic drugs did seriously and negatively affect the mind.
The most obvious results came in the memory and cognitive tests. The study found that people using these drugs had severely impaired:
- Short-term memory skills
- Verbal reasoning abilities
- Problem-solving skills
- Planning abilities
Even more troubling was the finding that people who took these drugs had lower levels of glucose in the hippocampus – a major sign of decreased cognitive skill – as well as a decrease in brain volume in various areas, including the larger ventricles and the cavities inside the mind. All these symptoms are synchronous with the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, another study in 2013 (performed at the Indiana University Center For Aging Research) had already found many of the same effects in anticholinergic drugs. They found that the drugs caused serious cognitive problems and could occur as quickly as 60 days after the first dose. The problem with replacing these drugs is that many people (especially the elderly) rely on them to stay healthy. As a result, cognitive impairment and even an increased risk of dementia have been noted in people who continue to use them. This finding could potentially have a wide impact on the medical market and may require doctors and patients find alternative treatments for the many medical uses of anticholinergic drugs.
Typical Medical Uses
The effects that anticholinergic drugs have on your mind are secondary to the myriad of medical problems that they treat. These medicines can be purchased over-the-counter or prescribed to treat the following conditions:
When used properly, the effects of anticholinergics on your mind should be relatively minor. They should only be used temporarily to relieve these problems and patients should cease use as soon as the problems pass. However, continued use of these substances can impact your mind, decrease your cognitive abilities, and increase your risk of dementia. So it’s important to understand what drugs fall under this heading.
What Drugs Are Considered Anticholinergics?
There is a wide range of drugs that promote an anticholinergic effect. Many of them do require a prescription, but plenty can be purchased at any pharmacy. Some of the most common of these drugs include the following:
This is by no means a complete list of anticholinergics: there are many others that can be purchased over-the-counter or which may be prescribed by a well-meaning doctor. If you take any of these medications or are concerned that you are taking an anticholinergic without knowing it, please talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
How They Can Be Misused
While anticholinergics have many genuine medical uses, a small number of people do take these drugs to produce a state of “delirium.” Drugs of this type are commonly classified as deliriants because they cause a state of confusion or behaviors akin to a psychotic episode. Rarely addictive, they still produce a mildly hallucinogenic state during which a person has little control over or memory of their actions.
Though anticholinergics are among the least popular or misused drugs on the market, the legality of these drugs as well as the ease in obtaining them has carved out a small niche of frequent users. Typically, they are used by teens who can’t get a hold of other substances or people who, for whatever reason, want to experience hallucinations or a loss of control.
The worst part about this misuse isn’t the temporary perception effects it causes, but the damage that is occurring in the brain of those misusing them. The idea that prescription drugs are completely safe to misuse in this way is a severe misunderstanding that can lead to serious side effects.
Possible Side Effects
The damage caused by anticholinergics is usually only a temporary problem for most people, but when used in high levels or for extended periods, a variety of side effects are possible, many of which in severity depending on the extent of the damage. These effects include:
- Awkward coordination
- Dry mouth
- Dilation of the pupils
- Confusion and jittery behavior
- Sensitivity to light
- Incoherent speech
- Hallucinations (flashes of light, “tunnel vision,” visual static, insects, imaginary warping)
- Easily afraid of loud sounds
- Strange and illogical thinking
This is why it’s so crucial to avoid taking excessive amounts of these drugs. The dosage suggested on the label is the safest amount to take. Any more than that puts you at serious risk for seriously affecting your brain and even causing long-term brain damage.
Don’t Let This Happen To You
While anticholinergics are generally considered relatively non-addictive, it is still possible that someone you love is abusing these substances. Contact us at DrugRehab.org if you are worried about this possibility. We have educational material available that can teach your loved one about the dangers of these substances.