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Methamphetamine, or "meth," is a dangerous, sometimes lethal and unpredictable drug. Meth is also known as speed, ice, and crystal. Like cocaine, meth is a potent central nervous system stimulant. Meth represents the fastest growing drug threat in America today.

Baggies of methamphetamines

Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally, and its appearance varies depending on how it is used. Typically, it is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting powder that easily dissolves in water. Another common form of the drug is crystal meth, or "ice," named for its appearance (that of clear, large chunky crystals resembling rock candy). Crystal meth is smoked in a manner similar to crack cocaine and about 10 to 15 "hits" can be obtained from a single gram of the substance. Users have referred to smoking ice as a "cool" smoke, while the smoking of crack is a "hot" smoke. The euphoric effect of smoking ice lasts longer than that of smoking crack.

Methamphetamine use increases the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and rate of breathing, and it frequently results in violent behavior in users. Meth also dilates the pupils and produces temporary hyperactivity, euphoria, a sense of increased energy, and tremors. High doses or chronic use have been associated with increased nervousness, irritability, and paranoia. Withdrawal from high doses produces severe depression.

Chronic abuse produces a psychosis similar to schizophrenia and is characterized by paranoia, picking at the skin, self absorption, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Violent and erratic behavior is frequently seen among chronic, high-dose methamphetamine abusers. The most dangerous stage of the binge cycle is known as "tweaking." Typically, during this stage, the abuser has not slept in three to fifteen days and is irritable and paranoid. The tweaker has an intense craving for more meth; however, no dosage will help recreate the euphoric high. This causes frustration and leads to unpredictability and a potential for violence.

Short-term effects can include:
Increased attention and decreased fatigue
Increased activity
Decreased appetite
Euphoria and rush
Increased respiration

Long-term effects can include:
Dependence and addiction psychosis
Mood disturbances
Repetitive motor activity
Weight loss

What are the medical complications of methamphetamine use?

Methamphetamine can cause a variety of cardiovascular problems. These include rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible, stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions occur with methamphetamine overdoses, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.

Chronic methamphetamine abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining, and among users who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses. Methamphetamine abusers also can have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Heavy users also show progressive social and occupational deterioration. Psychotic symptoms can sometimes persist for months or years after use has ceased.

Acute lead poisoning is another potential risk for methamphetamine abusers. A common method of illegal methamphetamine production uses lead acetate as a reagent. Production errors may therefore result in methamphetamine contaminated with lead. There have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous methamphetamine abusers.

Fetal exposure to methamphetamine also is a significant problem in the United States. At present, research indicates that methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may be linked also to congenital deformities. red ribbon icon

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
NIH Publication Number 97-3859


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