Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or bright blue-white stones. Its chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.
Other common names of methamphetamine are blue, crystal, ice, met and ampheta ( blue, crystal, ice, meth and speed, in English).
How is methamphetamine consumed?
Methamphetamine can be:
- ingest (pills)
- inject (the powder is previously dissolved in water or alcohol)
Since the drug’s ” high ” high starts and ends quickly, people often take repeated doses in an “excess and collapse” mode. In some cases, the consumption is done in an excess modality known as “run”, in which the person does not eat or sleep but consumes the drug every few hours for several days.
What effect does methamphetamine have on the brain?
Methamphetamine increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, a natural chemical that participates in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of behaviors that produce satisfaction. The ability of the drug to rapidly raise the level of dopamine in the reward areas of the brain greatly reinforces the behavior of using the drug and makes the person want to repeat the experience.
Short term effects
Consuming even small amounts of methamphetamine can produce many of the health effects produced by other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. Among them are:
- increased wakefulness and physical activity
- decreased appetite
- fast breathing
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- high blood pressure and body temperature
How is methamphetamine manufactured?
Currently, the majority of methamphetamine found in the United States is manufactured by transnational criminal organizations in Mexico. This methamphetamine is extremely pure, very powerful and very cheap. It is also possible to manufacture the drug in small clandestine laboratories with over-the-counter and relatively inexpensive ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common component of cold medicines. To hinder this type of production, the laws require that pharmacies and other retail stores keep a record of purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine and take measures to limit sales.
The production of methamphetamine also requires the use of other very dangerous chemicals. The toxic effects of these products may remain in the environment long after the laboratory is closed and cause a variety of health problems for those living in the area. These chemicals can also cause or fatal explosions in laboratories and home fires.
What different effects will methamphetamine on health?
People who inject methamphetamine have a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These diseases are transmitted by contact with blood or other body fluids that may remain in the accessories used for consumption. Methamphetamine can also alter judgment and decision making, which creates risky behaviors such as unprotected sexual activity, for example, which also increases the risk of infection.
Methamphetamine use can also aggravate the evolution of HIV and AIDS, as well as its consequences. There are studies that indicate that HIV causes more damage to nerve cells and more cognitive problems in people who use methamphetamine than in those who are infected with HIV but do not use the drug. Cognitive problems include problems with thinking, comprehension, learning, and memory.
Long-term consumption of methamphetamine has many other negative consequences, including:
- excessive weight loss
- severe dental problems (“methamphetamine mouth”)
- severe itching leading to skin lesions caused by scratching
- changes in the structure and functioning of the brain
- Loss of memory
- trouble sleeping
- violent behavior
- paranoia (extreme and unjustified distrust of others)
- hallucinations (sensations and images that seem real but are not)
In addition, the continued consumption of methamphetamine causes changes in the brain’s dopamine system; These changes are associated with less coordination and decreased verbal learning. In studies of people who used methamphetamine for a long time, it was observed that profound changes also affected areas of the brain that are related to emotion and memory. This may explain many of the emotional and cognitive problems seen in those who consume methamphetamine.
While it may happen that some of these brain changes are reversed after leaving the drug for more than a year, it is possible that other changes may not be reversed even after a long time. A recent study even suggests that those who have ever used methamphetamine have an increased risk of getting Parkinson’s disease, a nervous disorder that affects movement.
Does exposure to secondhand smoke from methamphetamine have health effects?
Researchers do not yet know if people who breathe secondhand methamphetamine smoke can dop or suffer other health effects. What they do know is that a methamphetamine screening test can yield a positive result after a person has been exposed to secondhand smoke. More research is needed in this area.
Is it possible to suffer an overdose of methamphetamine?
Yes, it is possible to suffer an overdose of methamphetamine. An overdose occurs when the person consumes too much of a drug and suffers a toxic reaction that causes serious harmful symptoms or death.
In 2017, about 15% of all overdose deaths were related to methamphetamine; 50% of those deaths also included an opioid, and half of those cases were related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl. (CDC Wonder Multiple Causes of Death — see # 42 on Meth RR.) It is important to note that sometimes cheap and dangerous synthetic opioids are added to street methamphetamine without the consumer knowing.
How is an overdose of methamphetamine treated?
Since an amphetamine overdose often triggers a stroke, heart attack or problems with other organs, initial relief staff and emergency room doctors treat overdoses with the treatment of these disorders, with the intention of:
- Restore blood circulation to the affected part of the brain (cerebral embolism)
- Restore blood circulation to the heart (heart attack)
- Treat affected organs
Is methamphetamine addictive?
Yes, methamphetamine is highly addictive. When a person stops using it, withdrawal symptoms may include:
- deep depression
- strong desire to use the drug
How is methamphetamine addiction treated?
While research is ongoing, there are currently no government-approved medications for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. The good news is that improper methamphetamine use can be prevented and drug addiction can be treated with behavioral therapies. The most effective treatments for upper addiction up to now are activity therapies:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps patients recognize, avoid and cope with situations in which they are likely to use drugs
- Motivational incentives that use coupons or small cash rewards to encourage patients not to use the drug
Research is also continuing to create medications and other new treatments for methamphetamine use (including vaccines) and non-invasive brain stimulation through magnetic fields. People can recover from methamphetamine addiction – and indeed they do – if they have simple and direct access to effective treatments that encompass the multiple medical and personal problems caused by prolonged drug use.