Methamphetamine: Facts, Effects, and Health Risks
Methamphetamine is an illegal psychostimulant drug that is highly addictive. The drug is also known amphetamine. The drug has potent euphoric effects similar to cocaine. Unlike cocaine, methamphetamine’s effects last longer. It is also cheaper to obtain and it is made from easily attainable ingredients.
The drug was first discovered in the 19th century and was used as a respiratory stimulator and to decongest nasal passages. In the 20th century, it was used during World War II to help soldiers stay awake. It also served to improve the soldiers’ mood and endurance. Once the war ended, the drug became popular as a stimulant popularly used by college students, athletes, truck drivers, and even homemakers.
Over time, people came to realize that methamphetamine was highly addictive and dangerous. It was not until the 1970’s that the drug was scheduled as a controlled substance. To date, it is illegal to use it unless prescribed by a certified medical practitioner.
Methamphetamine raises the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which naturally occur in your brain. The drug has several street names that include meth, chalk, ice, crank, and speed.
Because methamphetamine is easily produced, it is used by many unscrupulous people as an easy to make quick money by taking advantage of its addictive nature. When the drug is used over a long period of time, it can cause devastating effects to not only the user but society at large.
Below are some key facts about methamphetamine.
- Methamphetamine ranks second among the most addictive drugs the first being cannabis.
- Methamphetamine takes the largest share of all synthetic drugs in the market.
- Majority of all domestic methamphetamine is made from home kitchens, cook laboratories, rural cabins, and recreational vehicles.
- Most individuals who use methamphetamine in their adolescent years end up suffering depression in their adulthood.
- Most methamphetamine users have violent tendencies.
- Because methamphetamine is a neurotoxin, it can damage serotonin and dopamine neurons in the brain.
- Illicit methamphetamine often contains ephedrine, drain cleaner, lantern fuel, antifreeze, hydrochloric acid, battery acid, red phosphorous, acetone, and lye all of which are toxic.
- Methamphetamine can act as an aphrodisiac and users tend to engage in a lot of reckless sexual activity.
- While the effects of cocaine last for about an hour, the effects of meth can last several hours.
- Research has shown that methamphetamine causes functional and structural changes to one’s brain. These changes can affect emotional balance and memory and some of the changes are irreversible.
- When used by pregnant women, the drug can lead to premature delivery, sudden death of fetus or mother, abnormally small fetuses, or vaginal bleeding.
- When combined with cocaine, alcohol or opiates, the toxicity of methamphetamine is enhanced.
Methamphetamine appears as an odorless, white, bitter-tasting powder that is crystalline. It can easily dissolve in alcohol or water.
Amphetamine is a drug used in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions that include:
Methamphetamine, on the other hand, is similar to Amphetamine but it is illegal and merely used for the euphoric effects. When misused, it can be deadly.
Effects & Uses of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine can either be snorted, smoked, ingested orally or injected. Injecting or smoking the drug gives one an intense, immediate rush that lasts a couple of minutes.
Snorting does not produce an intense rush but the euphoria lasts anywhere between three to five minutes from the time of ingestion. Oral effects, however, can last up to 20 minutes.
Depending on one’s choice of ingestion, the effects of methamphetamine can linger on for six to twenty-four hours.
Individuals who take methamphetamine do it purely for the pleasurable effects.
Effects of methamphetamine are either short-term or long-term.
Short-term effects include:
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
- Appetite loss
- Dilated pupils
- Interrupted sleep patterns
- Erratic, bizarre and even violent behavior
- Hyperexcitability, hallucinations, and irritability
- Psychosis and panic
- Seizures, convulsions, and death from overdosing
Long-term effects include:
- Permanent damage to the brain, heart and blood vessels as well as high blood pressure can lead to strokes, heart attacks and ultimately death.
- Kidney, liver and lung damage.
- If sniffed for a prolonged period, methamphetamine can damage tissues in the nose.
- If smoked long-term it can cause respiratory issues.
- If injected for long, it can cause abscesses on the injection points and lead and cause infectious diseases from sharing needles.
- Weight loss and/or malnutrition
- Extreme tooth decay
- Apathy, disorientation and confused exhaustion
- Severe psychological dependence.
- Damages the brain in a similar manner that Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and stroke damage the brain.
Short-term And Long-term Impact of Methamphetamine
When consumed, crystal meth and meth create a deceitful sense of energy and well being. This causes an individual to push their body further and faster than it is supposed to go. Consequently, the meth user experiences severe ‘crashes’ or mental and physical breakdown once the effects of the drugs have worn off.
Prolonged use of the drug tampers with one’s natural ability to sense hunger and so users end up losing excess weight. As result, they develop insomnia, hyperactivity, delusions of being powerful, nausea, irritability, and increased aggressiveness.
Effects worsen with prolonged use and could escalate to mental health issues that cause anxiety, paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations to physical effects that can cause convulsions and ultimately death.
Long-term impacts can be irreversible. Sometimes users who recover from their addiction end up with permanent brain damage, inability to put thoughts together, and permanent memory loss.
Methamphetamine Health Risks & Medical Complications
- The ‘Crash’
Medical complications associated with methamphetamine use vary depending on the user’s dosage, frequency in using, prior medical history and physic, and mental state.
The ‘Crash’, as described above, happens after the effects of the drug wear off. Symptoms of a crash include agitation, depression, anxiety and intense cravings for the drug. When the dosage is lower, the symptoms tend to be mild. Higher doses, however, intensify the crash causing it to resemble unipolar depression with suicidal ideation and melancholy. These symptoms can be experienced by individuals who have never suffered from depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts. Worse still, the symptoms can last for days because the meth addict regains composure.
A crash can be managed clinically in two stages. In the first stage, the user is monitored to ensure they don’t inflict harm on themselves and the monitoring lasts until they bypass the depressed mood. Sleeping helps get the user through this stage. The second stage involves conducting an evaluation once the user wakes up. This evaluation is conducted to ensure that there are no lingering neurovegetative effects and to ensure that the suicidal ideation is no longer at play. More often than not, clinical management has to be conducted from a hospital and the patient should be admitted for treatment.
Once the crash has passed, what follows next is withdrawal. Because meth users develop a dependency on the drug, without it they exhibit withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include fatigue, increased appetite, sleep craving, loss of mental and physical energy, depression, inability to enjoy things, lack of interest in things and people around you, and impaired social interactions. These symptoms can intensify and last for 12 to 96 hours. Sometimes the symptoms wane and wax over a couple of weeks. If the depression stage lasts too long, it could lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. During the withdrawal phase, drug cravings may also reemerge. Most experts believe that treatment of methamphetamine withdrawals is futile and can only make a difference if targeted to specific symptoms.
- Neurotoxic effects
The striatal is the part of the brain that consists of the caudate, nucleus accumbens and putamen. It can be greatly impaired by prolonged use of methamphetamine. This is because methamphetamine lowers the levels of dopamine in the brain and a decrease in dopamine receptor is linked to decreased stimulation. These kinds of changes in one’s dopamine function in the brain can lead to decreased motor function and as well as impairment in verbal learning.
Studies conducted using MRI machines (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) have shown that methamphetamine cause structural changes in one’s brain. It leads to loss of grey matter in the limbic, cingulate, paralimbic cortices. It also affects the white matter hypertrophy and smaller hippocampi. Prolonged users also tend to have slight alterations and enlarged striatum in the cerebral vasculature. MRS (Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy) in methamphetamine users shows that the drug causes neuronal damage and damage to the frontal regions and basal ganglia of the brain.
- Cognitive effects
Prolonged use of methamphetamine can cause neuropsychological deficits. Research shows that specific impairments in users such as difficulty focusing, memory loss and compromised executive function are all linked to long-term use of methamphetamine.
Attention deficits observed in users are also linked to the inability to put aside irrelevant information and cognitive inhibition. Some of the executive functions compromised by the use of methamphetamine include planning, reasoning, and behavioral flexibility. The deficits observed in methamphetamine users mimic those seen in ADHD patients. The drug also hinders episodic memory and the ability for the user to recall tasks.
- Pulmonary arterial hypertension
Research shows that there is a direct correlation between the use of methamphetamine and pulmonary arterial hypertension. The actual cause of this correlation is still being investigated although a few theories have come up. Some of them suggest that it exists because of hypoxic insult, toxic endothelial harm, vasculitis, direct spasm, and dysregulation of the vascular tone’s mediators.
- Mental health
Regular methamphetamine users can develop psychosis. Abnormal behaviors gradually develop over time and they include paranoid delusions where a user, for instance, begins feeling like they are constantly being watched. Visual hallucinations are also common where a user begins seeing things that do not exist in real life. Auditory hallucinations are also common where users may begin hearing voices and noises that don’t exist in reality.
Researchers have found that symptoms of psychosis among recovering users persisted for years in some cases even when the individuals were no longer using methamphetamine. They also tend to have psychotic relapses long after use especially when dealing with difficult situations.
When addicts repeatedly take high doses of the drug, they can end up engaging in self-harming behavior. This behavior includes head banging, self-biting, scratching, hair pulling, cutting as well as other kinds of tissue damage. Chronic users also tend to scratch at delusional ‘crack bugs’ which they believe to be crawling under their skin. This results in skin abscesses and sores all over the body. Some go to extreme lengths where they mutilate their genitals.
Acute psychotic recurrences from methamphetamine use and paranoid psychoses can be treated using antipsychotic drugs such as dopamine D2 (receptor) antagonist haloperidol. This treatment option helps to counteract the drug’s effects by managing the psychiatric symptoms of the drug linked to dopamine transmission. Research has shown that use of this drug can potentially cause users to develop seizures and hyper-kinetic motion disorders.
- Oral health
Methamphetamine users tend to be hyperactive and they generally limit drinking and eating while under the influence of the drug. This leads to dry mouth and dehydration. Methamphetamine also leads to a decrease in saliva secretion as it stimulates the inhibitory (a2) receptors. In addition, the saliva produced by methamphetamine users tends to have high protein levels and this worsens oral dryness. Because most users tend to drink high sugar caffeinated beverages, they worsen their oral health issues. While under the influence of the drug, most users do not pay attention to oral hygiene such as regular brushing of teeth.
Majority of meth users develop caries due to poor oral hygiene. Coral lesions also occur because of decay and they involve the cervical and facial areas of the mandibular and maxillary teeth. Tooth wear is aggravated by bruxism because meth users usually clench the jaws and grind the teeth. Moreover, while under the influence of the drug, meth users have no time or motivation to seek dental care and therefore their oral health deteriorates fast over time.
- Sexually transmitted illnesses and HIV
Because methamphetamine alters the users’ inhibitions and judgment, it often leads to engaging in reckless behaviors that increase the chances of getting sexually transmitted illnesses and HIV transmission. Moreover, users who inject the drug often share syringes, needles and other paraphernalia that is contaminated. If one user is already HIV positive, they can easily spread the disease through shared needles.
Because methamphetamine has aphrodisiac qualities, users tend to engage in a lot of sex and due to lack of inhibition while under the influence, safe sex is often not a priority. Most users fall into sexual promiscuity, regular prolonged intercourse, and compulsive masturbation. It is worse if a user already had unusual sexual tendencies before they started using the drug because that increases the risk of the user engaging in sadomasochistic behavior, promiscuity and prostitution. These risky sexual behavior exposes not only the user to sexually transmitted illnesses but their partners too.
Additionally, abusing methamphetamine can be a partial substitute for sexual activity. Research shows that some users prefer the effects of getting high to the rewards of engaging in sex such as experiencing an orgasm. Research has also shown that long-term use can in some cases cause impotence.
Homosexuals and bisexuals are at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted illnesses. This is because they are more likely to engage in sexual activity with multiple partners and while under the influence of methamphetamine, safe sex takes a back burner in most users’ lives.
If a meth user contracts HIV, they are likely to suffer from cognitive impairment and neuronal injury more severely than a non-drug user does. The progression of HIV in meth users is also more aggressive than in individuals who don’t use meth.
Death among meth users occurs due to a couple of reasons. One, new users often overdose because of administering higher doses than their bodies are used to. Experienced users can survive similar high doses but a new user is likely to overdose from it. Secondly, many meth users die after taking high doses of the drug after going through withdrawal. This is because, during withdrawal, a user’s tolerance is reduced.
Some of the other mechanisms that lead to death include:
- Vascularizing dementia
- Ischemic stroke as a result of methamphetamine inhalation
- Caudal thalamic infarctions as a result of methamphetamine consumed intranasally.
Treatment For Methamphetamine Abuse
Generally, there are two kinds of treatment for drug addiction or abuse. The first is pharmacology where drugs are administered to help with the user’s detox and withdrawal. The second is a therapy which involves counseling, group therapy and the like.
Unlike other addictions, methamphetamine cannot be treated using pharmacology. We currently do not have any medication that can be used in the treatment of meth addiction or abuse. Ideally, if such drugs existed, they would help counteract the effects of meth in users and help in managing symptoms of withdrawal and cravings.
The most popular treatment option after detox is behavioral therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), contingency management interferences and the Matrix Model have all proved to be effective in treating methamphetamine abuse.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based on the idea that learning plays a critical role in developing maladaptive behaviors. Therapy sessions, therefore, focus partly on guiding the meth users towards learning new healthy ways to manage stressors that lead to the need for meth use. When an individual is able to recognize their reactions to emotional cues and their environment, they are better able to manage impulsive responses that include using drugs and instead adopt healthy coping mechanisms such as taking walks, exercising, breathing exercises among other healthy activities.
The Matrix Model involves a 16-week package of behavioral treatment services including behavioral therapy, group counseling, individual counseling, 12 step philosophy, family education, motivational therapy where users are introduced to non-drug activities, and regular testing.
Contingency management intervention is based on motivating users to quit the habit of using a reward system. Recovering addicts are given incentives by their therapists that motivate them to stop using methamphetamine. The incentives are agreed upon by both the recovering addict and therapist. This type of treatment has proven very useful to most recovering addicts. This is because deep down, we all take pride in making achievements and getting rewarded for our commitment and hard work.
Managing Treatment Barriers
Addictiion is the main obstacle in receiving treatment for methamphetamine abuse. There are many paths to rehab treatment. For example, a meth addict might get into trouble with the law and get a court order demanding that they get treatment instead of a jail sentence or receive both treatment and a jail sentence or probation. Individuals who are ordered by the court to receive treatment are likely to recover successfully as those who seek treatment on their own without the court’s intervention.
If you have a loved one who you would like to help recover from meth addiction, you are advised to first take preparatory steps that include learning everything revolving around meth addiction. Also, do research about the treatment options available and where they can be found. If you want to be hands-on in the recovering process, you will need a facility close to home so that it is convenient for both you and your loved one. Proximity also helps ensure that you keep tabs with their recovery progress and are able to get help fast if and when needed.
You will also need to develop a treatment plan with the recovering addict and therapist. This plan helps outline the milestones and markers for the recovering addict so that everyone involved knows what they recovering addict is working towards.
It is important to recognize that although meth use is a difficult habit to quit, it is possible and addicts need as much support as possible. Being patient with your loved one during recovery is key because relapses do and can happen but are not an indication of the user’s willingness to get well.