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
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
Increased attention and decreased fatigue
Euphoria and rush
Long-term effects can
Dependence and addiction psychosis
Repetitive motor activity
What are the medical complications of methamphetamine
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.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
NIH Publication Number 97-3859