Key takeaways:

  • Since being made illegal, most people who abuse methamphetamines do so via meth or crystal meth. The production of illegal crystal meth has become one of the biggest targets of the war on drugs
  • Methamphetamine is occasionally cut with opioids such as fentanyl, which can increase the chance of fatal overdose
  • Around 40% of those seeking treatment for methamphetamine addiction report to be struggling from anxiety, according to research performed by The American Journal on Addiction

Methamphetamine, often referred to as crystal meth or simply meth, is a powerful stimulant drug that has a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Understanding meth (methamphetamine)

Methamphetamine is made from amphetamine and other chemicals and is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Methamphetamine was once used as a prescription decongestant and weight loss supplement legally available throughout the U.S. Due to widespread abuse of the drug for its stimulant properties, the FDA regulated the drug as a schedule II controlled substance in 1970. Desoxyn, used to treat obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is the only form of prescription methamphetamine still available on the market. [1] 

Since being made illegal, most people who abuse methamphetamines do so via meth or crystal meth. The production of illegal crystal meth has become one of the biggest targets of the war on drugs.

How is meth made?

Most of the crystal meth in the US crosses over the US-Mexico land border and is manufactured and trafficked into the US by drug cartels. On a smaller scale, some meth is produced in clandestine labs in the US using a variety of highly toxic but legal chemicals including over-the-counter medications and cleaning chemicals. 

Due to legislation changes, many of these chemicals are now placed behind the counter or in a locked cabinet, and stores often require photo identification and a signed logbook for each purchase. [1] Methamphetamine is occasionally cut with opioids such as fentanyl, which can increase the chance of fatal overdose.

What are common street names?

Common street names include: Batu, Bikers Coffee, Black Beauties, Chalk, Chicken Feed, Crank, Crystal, Glass, Go-Fast, Hiropon, Ice, Meth, Methlies Quick, Poor Man’s Cocaine, Shabu, Shards, Speed, Stove Top, Tina, Trash, Tweak, Uppers, Ventana, Vidrio, Yaba, and Yellow Bam [1]

What does meth look like?

Regular meth is a pill or powder. Crystal meth resembles glass fragments or shiny blue-white “rocks” of various sizes, though the color can be yellow, pink, or brown. [1]

How is it abused?

Meth is swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked. To intensify the effects, users may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their method of intake. [1]

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Effects of meth abuse

Meth is a commonly abused stimulant drug. Unless a person is using a prescribed methamphetamine for medical use (i.e. ADHD or narcolepsy), anyone using the drug is abusing it. Even someone who is overusing prescribed methamphetamine is abusing the drug and is at a much higher risk of becoming addicted. 

The effects of meth are closest to crack cocaine as it produces a ‘rush’ when smoked or injected. This rush is produced by the stimulant reacting with pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters in the brain that flood it with dopamine. This results in elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of euphoria. Because it is a stimulant, it can also lead people to feel increased energy, agitation, decreased appetite, and trouble sleeping. [2]

Snorting meth produces the longer-lasting sensation of euphoria without the rush. Injecting meth creates the most intense rush and can last for up to 30 minutes, but the overall effect of the drug doesn't last as long, leading people to go on ‘binges’ for several days at a time. 

Short-term effects of meth:

  • Elation or euphoria

  • Hyperactivity and wakefulness

  • Talkativeness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Reckless and impulsive choices

  • Irritability and mood instability

  • Paranoia or psychosis

  • Confusion or trouble focusing

Long-term effects of meth:

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Anxiety

  • Violent behavior

  • Insomnia

  • Tremors

  • Weight loss

  • Sores

  • Paranoia and psychosis

  • Cognitive difficulties

  • Sores on the skin

  • Dental decay or ‘meth mouth’

  • Increased risk for Hepatitis, HIV, and other infections

  • Lowered immunity

  • Increased risk for stroke

  • Nasal cavity damage (when snorted)

  • Seizures

  • Damage to the brain and nerve cells

  • mental health issues

  • Brain chemical imbalances

Meth is a highly toxic substance and when used long-term, can have devastating and lasting effects on a person’s brain, body, and personality. Like most stimulants, crystal meth abuse has a large impact on the cardiovascular and central nervous system functions, increasing the risk of seizures, heart attack, stroke, and life-threatening overdose. 

This risk is heightened when meth is combined with other substances such as cocaine, alcohol, or opioids and can often lead to overdose. Meth has long-lasting effects on the brain's chemical makeup, causing damage to the cells and nerve cells containing dopamine and serotonin.

Meth addiction

Meth is one of the most addictive illicit substances available in the U.S. today, with around 6% of the population admitting to trying it at least once. [2] Like other stimulants, meth affects the limbic reward system in the brain, producing a rush of dopamine, the chemical responsible for producing euphoria when we partake of pleasurable activities (food, sports, sex, etc.). 

The limbic reward system is not only responsible for pleasure; as its name suggests it programs how we respond to stimulus and reward, memory retention, and learning. The continued abuse of meth causes the brain to build up a tolerance, meaning the meth user will need to take more and more to get the same effect. 

This is what is known as meth dependence and if left unchecked can develop into addiction. The availability of meth, its low price point, strong withdrawal symptoms (insomnia, anxiety, depression, fatigue, etc), and use amongst teens are all risk factors that can lead to crystal meth addiction-forming.

Addiction through continued methamphetamine abuse is common. Whether someone is addicted or has a meth dependence is assessed through a set of 11 criteria outlined in the DSM-5 [4] that measure the negative impact meth abuse is having on the user's life. These criteria include:

  • Hazardous use

  • Social or interpersonal problems related to substance use

  • Neglected major responsibilities to abuse substances

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use

  • Developing a tolerance

  • Using larger amounts

  • Repeated attempts to quit or control use and failing

  • Excessive time spent using 

  • Physical or psychological problems related to abuse

  • Activities replaced by substance abuse

  • Cravings

These criteria are measured on a spectrum of mild, moderate, and severe. Meeting 1-2 criteria is defined as mild, 3-5 moderate, and 6+ severe. [4] 

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

Around 40% of those seeking treatment for methamphetamine addiction report to be struggling from anxiety, according to research performed by The American Journal on Addiction [3]. Drug abuse co-occurs with mood and anxiety disorders at rates of around 50% according to NIDA. [2]

People suffering from anxiety-related disorders may take meth to self-medicate. In reality, meth abuse can heighten anxiety and exacerbate both the abuse and pre-existing anxiety disorder. Also, it is common for people who abuse meth to become paranoid and anxious during the high, crash, and even during the withdrawal period, meaning some people may develop symptoms of anxiety as a result of their addiction. [3]

The best solution for treating co-occurring disorders like anxiety and meth abuse disorder is for treatment to be applied simultaneously for both conditions. This can often be achieved through inpatient meth addiction treatment and allows for both conditions to be managed and increases the chances of recovery for both. This is often achieved through a combination of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication as part of a treatment program created and administered by trained medical professionals and addiction specialists

Meth and other drugs

Methamphetamines are often combined with other substances to enhance their effects or to experience a different high. Occasionally, drug manufacturers and dealers will cut meth with other substances to increase its effects or stretch the amount of drugs they produce. This can be exceptionally dangerous as the person purchasing the meth may not know what it is cut with, potentially leading to a fatal overdose. 

Some of the most common substances combined with meth are:

Alcohol

Some people may drink more alcohol while taking meth as the stimulant effect of the latter masks the depressant effects of the former. People who abuse these substances together regularly face a myriad of health risks, including high blood pressure, psychosis and hallucinations, cancer, liver damage, and fatal overdose. 

Opioids

Like cocaine, meth is often mixed with opioids to produce a greater high than is felt when the drugs are taken separately. This poly-drug use, often referred to as speedballing, can cause coordination, avoidance response, and reflex functions to become suppressed, leading to an increased risk of harm befalling the user and others. Opioids combined with meth also increase the risk of a fatal meth overdose. 

Xanax

Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication and is often used to combat the high levels of anxiety caused by meth abuse. This back and forth not only elevates and then slows the heart, leading to potentially fatal heart arrhythmias, but is also incredibly addictive.

Get help for meth addiction today

Meth is a highly toxic, dangerous, and addictive substance. When someone suffers from a crystal methamphetamine addiction, it may seem like they will never be able to regain control over their life again. However, all addictions can be treated, and seeking treatment greatly increases the likelihood of lasting sobriety. [5]

A meth addiction treatment program can help meth users break their physical and psychological dependence on the drug and regain control of their lives. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction to methamphetamine, contact a dedicated treatment provider and learn about your potential rehabilitation options today.