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Title: SPECT is an acronym for Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography, which is a type of nuclear imaging test that shows how blood flows to tissues in the brain.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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    What is SPECT?  SPECT is an acronym for  S ingle  P hoton  E mission  C omputerized  T omography, which is a type of...



What is SPECT? 

SPECT is an acronym for Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography, which is a type of nuclear imaging test that shows how blood flows to tissues in the brain. The way it works is like this:
  1. A radioactive isotope, commonly idodine-123, is chemically bound to a substance that is readily taken up by cells in the brain. A small amount of this compound is injected intravenously to the patient, where it runs throughout the blood stream and is taken up by certain receptors in the brain. 
  2. As the radioactive isotope decays, it emits gamma rays which are detected by a special camera that rotates around the patients head. 
  3. A computer then takes this information and reconstructs a 3-D image of the patient’s brain. 

The result is a sophisticated map of blood flow and metabolism in the brain. With these maps, physicians have been able to identify certain patterns of brain activity that correlate with psychiatric and neurological illnesses.

How Can SPECT Be Used for Addiction Treatment? 

A physician named Dr. Daniel Amen has spent his entire career advocating for the use of brain imaging techniques, like SPECT, in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and yes, even ADDICTION. Just like any other neurological disorder, substance abuse, both long and short term, negatively impacts blood flow and metabolism in the brain, resulting in disturbances to the central nervous system. These disturbances can be readily identified by SPECT images which can help in the following ways.
  • Identifying toxic exposure
  • Reducing denial
  • Helping determine if treatment is working correctly 
  • Helping determine if there could be co-occurring conditions that need treatment 
  • Increasing treatment and recovery program compliance by showing pictures of results
  • Helping people gain a better understanding of their brain through visuals

Which Brain Are You? 

The following SPECT images (obtained from Dr. Amen’s SPECT gallery online at www.amenclinics.com) paint a pretty startling picture of the negative effects different types of substances can have on our brain.

As you view these pictures, notice the overall toxic look that these brains have compared to the normal "healthy" brain provided below. In general, you'll notice that the brains of drug & alcohol abusers appear less active, more shrivelled, and overall less healthy. A wavy, rough sea-like effect known as "scalloping" is common amongst drug abusing brains. 

A Normal, Healthy Brain 


This is the way a brain should look.
Smooth and even across the cortical surface. 

Long Term Effects of Cocaine and Methamphetamine Abuse 


Twenty-four year old with 2 yrs of frequent cocaine use. Top down surface view. Multiple holes across cortical surface.


Twenty-eight year old with 8 years of heavy meth use. Front on surface view. Marked overall decreased activity.

Long Term Effects of Marijuana Abuse 


Sixteen year old with 2 year history of daily abuse. Underside surface view. Prefrontal and temporal lobe activity. 


Twenty-eight year old with 10 years of mostly weekend use. Underside surface view. Decreased pfc and temporal lobe activity.

Long Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse 


Forty-four year old with 18 years of daily use.
Underside surface view.
Marked overall decreased activity. 


Forty-five year old with 25 year history of daily abuse. Underside surface view. Marked overall decreased activity. 

Long Terms Effects of Heroin Abuse 


Thirty-nine year old with 25 yrs of frequent heroin use. Front on surface view. Marked overall decreased activity.


Forty-year old with 7 yrs on methadone. Heroin 10 yrs prior. Top down surface view. Marked decreased overall activity.

There is Hope 

Although these pictures paint a pretty bleak picture for the health of our brain, there is some hope. Because the human brain is so resilient, a little abstinence can go a long way. In fact, Dr. Amen has documented images which show an addict’s brain while they were using and their brain after only one year substance free. 

Before Treatment                                      1 Year Substance Free


Notice the overall holes and shriveled appearance during abuse. 


Notice the marked improvement after only one year abstinence. 

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