Fruit fly researchers have done a pretty neat study to determine what happens at the cellular level during methamphetamine use (original pdf available on PLoS One here.) In a nutshell, they fed either a regular diet or a meth-laced diet to fruit flies, then extracted the proteins and nucleic acids from the flies’ entire bodies and examined what was different in the two samples.
The researchers found differences in pathways involved in energy generation, sugar metabolism, sperm cell formation, cell structure, hormones, skeletal and heart muscle, and (unsurprisingly) drug detoxification. This IS just a study in flies, but there are many pathways (including the energy and metabolism pathways mentioned above) that are very conserved (ie, generally the same) between humans and fruit flies. Also, flies are one system where no one’s going to get upset if you flash-freeze and digest up the whole body to look at what’s going on. Being able to look at the whole organism rather than only one part is a huge help in trying to figure out a drug’s mechanism.
There’s a few interesting bits in the article, but one of the neatest I thought was how the meth-fed flies survived longer if they were then fed a diet of specific sugars. These sugars appeared to prevent (for awhile at least) the toxicity of meth. Meth users are also evidently known for craving sugary drinks. Just a correlation, it’s true, but interesting nonetheless.