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Bringing the Power of Science to Bear on Drug Abuse and Addiction

2: A positron emission tomography (PET) scanner

A positron emission tomography (PET) scanner

Now let’s take a look inside your mind... One of the tools that scientists use to see the effects of drugs on the brain is called positron emission tomography or a PET [say the word “pet”] scan. Similar to an x-ray, but much more sophisticated, a PET scan is used to examine many different organs including the heart, liver, lungs, and bones, as well as the brain. A PET scan shows much more than the physical structure of bone and tissue. A PET scan shows how well (or how little) an organ is functioning.

Using a PET scan, a doctor or a scientist can see what is actually happening in a person’s brain and see the effects of drugs. The PET scan shows areas of the brain that are active and also areas that are inactive or not functioning at all. Typically, a PET scan takes 1 to 2 hours with the person lying completely still so that the PET images will be clear.

Let’s see the effects a drug like cocaine has on the brain.

This page was last updated January 2007

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National Institute on Drug Abuse (2007). 2: A positron emission tomography (PET) scanner. In Bringing the Power of Science to Bear on Drug Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/power-science/section-ii/2-positron-emission-tomography-pet-scanner

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