Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system and increases the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine, in the brain. Dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function. Methamphetamine’s ability to release dopamine rapidly in reward regions of the brain increases pleasure and pleasurable sensations.
Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.
Other common names for methamphetamine include blue, crystal, ice, meth, and speed.
How do people use methamphetamine?
injecting the powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol
Because the "high" from the drug both starts and fades quickly, people often take repeated doses in a "binge and crash" pattern. In some cases, people take methamphetamine in a form of binging known as a "run," giving up food and sleep while continuing to take the drug every few hours for up to several days.
How does methamphetamine affect the brain?
Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviours. The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behaviour, making the user want to repeat the experience.
Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same health effects as those of other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include:
increased wakefulness and physical activity
rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
increased blood pressure and body temperature
How Do Manufacturers Make Methamphetamine?
Currently, most methamphetamine in the United States is produced by transactional criminal organizations (TCOs) in Mexico. This methamphetamine is highly pure, potent, and low in price.
The drug can be easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudo-ephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications.
To curb this kind of production, the law requires pharmacies and other retail stores to keep a purchase record of products containing pseudo-ephedrine, and take steps to limit sales.
Methamphetamine production also involves a number of other very dangerous chemicals. Toxic effects from these chemicals can remain in the environment long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of health problems for people living in the area. These chemicals can also result in deadly lab explosions and house fires.
What are other health effects of methamphetamine?
People who inject methamphetamine are at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids that can remain on drug equipment.
Methamphetamine use can also alter judgment and decision-making leading to risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, which also increases risk for infection.
Methamphetamine use may worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Studies indicate that HIV causes more injury to nerve cells and more cognitive problems in people who use methamphetamine than it does in people who have HIV and don't use the drug.1 Cognitive problems are those involved with thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering.
Long-term methamphetamine use has many other negative consequences, including:
extreme weight loss
severe dental problems ("meth mouth")
intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
changes in brain structure and function
paranoia - extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
hallucinations - sensations and images that seem real though they aren't
In addition, continued methamphetamine use causes changes in the brain's dopamine system that are associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. In studies of people who used methamphetamine over the long term, severe changes also affected areas of the brain involved with emotion and memory. This may explain many of the emotional and cognitive problems seen in those who use methamphetamine.
Although some of these brain changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more, other changes may not recover even after a long period of time. A recent study even suggests that people who once used methamphetamine have an increased the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, a disorder of the nerves that affects movement.
Can a person overdose on methamphetamine?
Yes, a person can overdose on methamphetamine. An overdose occurs when the person uses too much of a drug and has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death. It is important to note that cheap, dangerous synthetic opioids are sometimes added to street methamphetamine without the user knowing.
How can a methamphetamine overdose be treated?
Because methamphetamine overdose often leads to a stroke, heart attack, or organ problems, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions, with the intent of:
restoring blood flow to the affected part of the brain (stroke)
restoring blood flow to the heart (heart attack)
treating the organ problems
Is methamphetamine addictive?
Yes, methamphetamine is highly addictive. When people stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms can include:
intense drug cravings
How is methamphetamine addiction treated?
While research is underway, there are currently no government-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction. The good news is that methamphetamine misuse can be prevented and addiction to the drug can be treated with behavioural therapies.
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