Methamphetamine: Facts, Effects & Warning

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug usually used as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine.

People can take methamphetamine by:

  • Inhaling/smoking
  • Swallowing (pill)
  • Snorting
  • Injecting the powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol

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 behaviors.

The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behavior, making the user want to repeat the experience.

Short-term effects of methamphetamine

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
  • Decreased appetite
  • Faster breathing
  • Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure and body temperature

Long-term 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.

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 have HIV and use methamphetamine than it does in people who have HIV and don’t use the drug. 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
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Sleeping problems
  • Violent behavior
  • 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 observed in those who use methamphetamine.

Are there health effects from exposure to secondhand methamphetamine smoke?

Researchers don’t yet know whether people breathing in secondhand methamphetamine smoke can get high or have other health effects. What they do know is that people can test positive for methamphetamine after exposure to secondhand smoke.

Can a person overdose on methamphetamine?

Yes, a person can overdose on methamphetamine. Methamphetamine overdose can lead to stroke, heart attack, or organ problems—such as kidney failure—caused by overheating. These conditions can result in death.

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:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Severe depression
  • Psychosis
  • Intense drug cravings

How can people get treatment for methamphetamine addiction?

The most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction so far are behavioral therapies, such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to use drugs.
  • Motivational incentives, which uses vouchers or small cash rewards to encourage patients to remain drug-free.

While research is under way, there are currently no government-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction.

Source: NIDA. (2018, June 6). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine on 2019, March 29

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.