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Methamphetamine: an abusive stimulant to stay awake

Reading time: 9 mins

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant. Due to its potent nature, many people who abuse meth develop addiction quickly. The term meth abuse refers to uses other than those recommended by a healthcare provider or, more frequently, the use of illegal drugs.

The main symptoms of meth abuse are the need to take more meth to experience euphoria and other pleasurable effects, high blood pressure, meth mouth, and other physical and mental health problems. Since it’s a powerful drug, meth side effects can be disastrous and life-threatening.

The causes behind meth abuse can be genetic, physical, and environmental. In other words, some people are genetically predisposed to develop substance use disorder, whereas others are under the strong influence of meth’s effect on dopamine release. Also, a family history of meth use or socializing with people who abuse this drug can lead to dependence, addiction, and other problems. Having a mental illness also increases the risk of meth abuse.

Men are more likely to abuse methamphetamines. The average age for meth abuse was between 18 and 25, with 20 years being the average age of onset of meth consumption. However, teen meth use isn’t uncommon. Many adolescents admit they’ve tried meth as early as 12 years old.   

Methamphetamine addiction induces severe withdrawal symptoms, which is why persons addicted to this drug need professional help and a well-structured treatment. The most common treatment options for meth abuse include therapy such as contingency management and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The Matrix Model is a common approach to the treatment of meth abuse; it’s a 16-week behavioral treatment that combines CBT with family education on what meth is, a 12-step program, individual counseling, and drug testing. 

People with meth abuse also need a strong support system at home to overcome their problems.

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a powerful and highly addictive central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. The drug appears as a bitter-tasting, white, odorless, crystalline powder that is easily dissolved in alcohol or water. The powder is, then, made into a shiny rock (meth crystal) or pill.

Sometimes, doctors may prescribe methamphetamine to treat patients with ADHD. In these cases, meth works by improving attention and reducing restlessness in overactive children and adults, Mayo Clinic explains. However, methamphetamine isn’t a standard medication for this condition, and healthcare professionals prescribe it rarely. However, people generally use meth drugs illegally. 

Methamphetamine was first manufactured in Japan back in 1919. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that most meth is manufactured in the United States and the Far East.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) explains that methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II stimulant under the Controlled Substances Act. That means, the abuse potential of the drug is high, but it also has a currently accepted medical use among FDA-approved products. The only legally available meth product today is Desoxyn for ADHD or obesity, but this prescription can’t be refilled.

Methamphetamine abuse is common. In 2020, among U.S. people aged 12 or older, about 0.9% (or 2.6 million) reported meth use in the past year. At the same time, 0.6% or 1.5 million people from the same age group had a methamphetamine use disorder in the past 12 months, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse

The same report also confirms that 23,837 people died in 2020 from psychostimulant-related overdoses, primarily with meth. 

Unfortunately, one report showed the rates of methamphetamine use increased by 43% in the period between 2015 and 2019. The number of people who consumed cocaine and meth together increased by 60%, and the number of people with meth addiction jumped by 62%.


What are the other terms or common street names for Methamphetamine?

Other terms for methamphetamine are methlies, ice, hot ice, crank, speed, blade, chalk, trash, wash, gak, dunk, stovetop, yaba, and pookie. Other common street names for this drug also include Tina, Christina, cristy, cookies, no doze, rocket fuel, white cross, cotton candy, and Scooby snax. 

Meth is sometimes combined with other drugs to intensify its effect. Street names for these combinations are shabu, fire, biker coffee, twisters, hugs and kisses, and party and play. 

Various terms are used to describe getting high on methamphetamine. Some of these terms are hot rolling, tweaking, zooming, chicken flipping, and getting geared up. Additionally, getting fried or foiled and getting scattered or spun out are also slang terms for getting high on methamphetamine.

How to use Methamphetamine

Methamphetamines are used as prescription medications (rarely), but illegal use is a lot more common. 

When it comes to prescription medications, the doctor recommends a specific meth dosage and frequency of use. Patients need to adhere to these recommendations religiously. Taking more meth pills than prescribed can be habit-forming. In these cases, methamphetamines are used mainly as tablets.

As mentioned already, illegal use is more common, which explains why a lot of people are addicted to methamphetamine. The ice drugs come in several forms and can be snorted, smoked, orally ingested, and injected. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the preferred method of meth use varies from one geographical region to another. It also changes over time. 

Many people smoke or inject methamphetamine. In fact, smoking is the most common method of meth misuse. It’s possible to smoke hydrochloride salt of meth by itself, without adding anything to alter its form. Some people use a “flute” or glass pipe to smoke crystal meth.

These methods allow the drug to reach the bloodstream and brain quickly. As a result, a person experiences an instant “rush.” Injecting or smoking meth amplifies the drug’s potential to cause addiction and also emphasizes its side effects. 

The rush, also called “flash,” after meth use, is short-term but described as pleasurable. This explains why people keep using meth and develop an addiction.

While people can achieve a “high” effect or euphoria by snorting or ingesting meth orally, they don’t experience the instant rush. Generally speaking, oral ingestion or swallowing meth produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes, while snorting works within three to five minutes.

People tend to abuse meth in the “binge and crash” pattern, like other stimulants. Binge and crash mean a person keeps taking the drug to maintain the effects of methamphetamine. Sometimes they use the “run” pattern, which involves meth use for several days without sleeping or eating anything.


What are the common effects when you use Methamphetamine?

Common effects of methamphetamine use, that occur quickly after ingestion, include decreased fatigue, improved attention, euphoria, and rush. People also experience increased wakefulness and become more active. Their appetite decreases, whereas respiration increases. Higher body temperature and rapid heartbeat are also common short-term effects that occur quickly after someone takes methamphetamine.

These effects don’t last long, which is why a person needs more meth to achieve them again. This paves the way to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. At the same time, a person who uses meth also starts experiencing some long-term side effects of meth use.

Long-term effects of methamphetamine use include weight loss, mood disturbances, and severe dental problems or meth mouth. Psychosis in the form of hallucinations, paranoia, and repetitive motor activity is also a common long-term effect of meth abuse. 

Other long-term effects of meth use include violent and aggressive behavior, memory loss, enhanced distractibility, deficits in motor and thinking skills, and changes in brain structure. People who keep using meth also deal with premature osteoporosis, skin sores due to constant itching and scratching, and permanent damage to the organs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Continuing with meth abuse also leads to sexually aggressive behavior and difficulty feeling any pleasure other than the satisfaction that comes with meth use. Some people may get seizures and pain in their chest or stomach.


What are the fatal side effects when you using Methamphetamine?

Fatal side effects, which occur at the late stage of meth abuse, include addiction, overdose, and death. Since methamphetamine is highly addictive, people tend to build tolerance quickly, which can lead to accidental overdose. 

Other life-threatening adverse reactions to methamphetamine include organ failure and severe cardiovascular problems. This puts a meth user at a high risk of heart attack, stroke, and hyperthermia, all of which are life-threatening conditions.

Some people may reverse organ damage when they stop using meth. However, this may not be the case for people who take large doses of meth too frequently. They are at risk of permanent damage to their brain and heart. Also, in some people kidneys may be so severely affected they stop functioning properly. When that happens, a kidney transplant is the only solution.

Fatal side effects of methamphetamines go beyond physical health and extend to mental well-being. For example, methamphetamine can worsen the side effects of depression. Severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. 

In other words, meth use and misuse put a person’s life in danger in more ways than one.


Can using Methamphetamine cause damage to your internal organs?

The use of methamphetamines can cause internal damage to your organs. For example, methamphetamine abuse and addiction can damage kidneys, heart, liver, brain, and other organs and systems in the body. 

Evidence shows methamphetamine use is an under-evaluated, yet preventable, cause of end-stage renal disease. Basically, end-stage renal disease is the final and permanent stage of chronic kidney disease. At this point, the function of the kidneys declines and they’re unable to work on their own. 

Generally speaking, persons who abuse meth are susceptible to kidney failure. That happens because when they binge on meth, people don’t drink enough fluids. Dehydration ensues and leads to a drastic lowering of blood pressure. Blood flow to the kidneys is also slow and weak. As a result, kidneys become vulnerable to damage and prone to failure. 

A study from Nephrology confirmed meth intoxication leads to acute kidney injury. While acute kidney injury can be mild and short-lived when treated properly, continuing with meth abuse leads to more serious problems that affect the functionality of the kidneys.

Many drugs can cause liver damage, and methamphetamine is not an exception. For example, a study from Pharmacology Research & Perspectives confirmed methamphetamine abuse can exhibit toxic effects on the liver. These effects persist for several hours after exposure to the drug. 

The main mechanism of action through which crank drugs contribute to hepatotoxicity is hyperthermia. Amphetamines, including meth, produce a major increase in body temperature due to changes in peripheral and brain physiology. Hyperthermia induces cellular damage through oxidative stress. Plus, methamphetamine is metabolized in the liver, which can also lead to the development of oxidative byproducts and cellular damage.

Moreover, The American Journal of Gastroenterology published a study that showed methamphetamine abuse can induce ischemic hepatitis. Also known as shock liver, ischemic hepatitis is a type of liver damage caused by insufficient oxygen or blood supply.

Meth abuse damages other organs and tissues in the body, too. It can also damage a person’s heart. Methamphetamine administration increases blood pressure and heart rate due to vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels).

What makes this drug even more dangerous is that intravenous administration leads to a buildup in the lung, where pulmonary endothelial cells internalize and metabolize it. Endothelial exposure to meth leads to oxidative stress and contributes to pulmonary hypertension, according to a study from Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

The same study also revealed methamphetamine abuse increases the rate of coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction. Additionally, meth abuse induces cardiac structural and cellular changes associated with arrhythmias.

The ESC Heart Failure published a study that confirmed cardiac complications are common causes of mortality and morbidity in people who abuse methamphetamine. 

Since methamphetamine has a direct impact on the brain, misuse of this drug can cause serious problems in this area. A growing body of evidence confirms that large doses of methamphetamine reduce several dopamine markers including the density of dopamine transporters. At the same time, meth abuse can lead to cognitive deficits. Meth abuse is associated with differences in brain structure, volume, and integrity too according to a paper from Neuropsychopharmacology. However, more research is necessary to understand the different effects of methamphetamine abuse on brain function.

Current evidence reveals that chronic meth use can cause memory deficits and deterioration of executive functioning, and reduced attention. These effects are attributed to the inflammatory and neurotoxic effects of methamphetamine. Also, this drug can contribute to neuronal damage.

When discussing the effects of meth abuse on internal organs, it’s important to mention the drug can cause scary effects on the lungs. Due to its vasoconstriction role, meth narrows blood vessels and increases the risk for lung damage. People who use meth are more likely to have pneumonia and lung infection. 

Inhalation of meth contributes to oxidative stress due to higher levels of free radicals. There are various types of meth-induced lung injury including the abovementioned pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary edema, and eosinophilic pneumonia, a paper from the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine reports.


What is the difference between Methamphetamine and Amphetamines?

The main difference between methamphetamine and amphetamines is in the potency. Methamphetamine is a lot more potent than amphetamine. Also, amphetamine is a type of stimulant drug class to which methamphetamine belongs. 

More precisely, amphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant usually prescribed for the management of ADHD, obesity, and narcolepsy. Examples of amphetamines include Adderall, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse. Amphetamine was discovered in 1887 whereas methamphetamine was first synthesized in 1919.

As a medication, amphetamine is prescribed more often than methamphetamine. However, just like methamphetamine, amphetamine is also a Schedule II controlled substance.

Compared to amphetamine, methamphetamine is more often illegally produced, distributed, and consumed.

When it comes to amphetamines vs. methamphetamine, it’s important to mention both drugs can produce short-term feelings of pleasure or happiness. However, methamphetamine is a lot stronger, works faster, and is more addictive. 

While their structure is similar, methamphetamine has a distinct structural difference that allows it to enter the brain faster and more intensely. For that reason, withdrawal from methamphetamine induces more severe symptoms. 

A study from the Journal of Biological Chemistry found that methamphetamine and amphetamine affect dopamine transporters differently. Higher dopamine in the nucleus accumbens is crucial for addiction development. Nucleus accumbens plays a key role in reward, sexual, feeding, and drug self-administration behaviors. Methamphetamine exhibits a greater influence on dopamine. This explains why methamphetamine exhibits stronger, and more dangerous, effects on a person.