What is Meth?

Meth is…

  • A stimulant that affects the central nervous system
  • A highly addictive substance
  • Similar to amphetamine, but with longer lasting effects
  • A substance that releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine
  • Odorless, bitter-tasting, crystalline powder that is often white or brown in color
  • A substance that can be dissolved into a beverage, swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected
  • Known by other common names: Chalk, Crank, Ice, Crystal, Speed, Tina, Dope, Glass, Tweak, Rock Candy, etc.
  • Made from toxic materials and/or household chemicals, such as:

Acetone (fingernail polish remover)

Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine (cold medicine)

Anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer)

Drain cleaner

Battery acid

Engine starter fluid

Red phosphorus (matches)

Hydriodic acid

Sodium hydroxide

Freon (air conditioner cooling agent)




Facts About Meth Use

  • Meth can be smoked, snorted, ingested, or injected.Smoking and injecting meth are the most common methods of use.
  • Immediately after smoking or injecting, meth causes the user to experience an intense “rush” or “flash.” This only lasts a few minutes but the resulting high can last 6 to 8 hours, followed by a crash.
  • The user can experience alertness, decreased appetite, and increased strength energy and physical activity often accompanied by an intense sexual desire. A meth high can also cause the user to feel very confident, to the point of feeling invulnerable.
  • Methamphetamine increases dopamine levels in the brain by over 1,000 percent, making methamphetamine powerfully addictive. It is important to note that after prolonged meth use, the brain is no longer able to produce dopamine and natural highs are no longer achievable.
  • The increase in dopamine, sense of euphoria, alertness, and other effects of using meth are followed by a crash. People who use methamphetamine often attempt to avoid crashing by continuing to use the drug until they lose consciousness or run out of product. After just a couple of uses, this drug begins to consume the lives of its users.

(Brain with normal control picture)

frequent_use(Brain with frequent meth use picture)

heavy_use(Brain with heavy meth use picture)

Images:  Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D. http://www.amenclinics.com/the-science/spect-gallery/alcohol-and-drug-abuse/

Short Term Effects

The short-term effects of methamphetamine use include:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Cardiovascular complications, such as cardiac arrhythmia
  • Increased temperature or hyperthermia
  • Increased breathing
  • Increased attention
  • Euphoria
  • Decreased fatigue and appetite
  • Convulsions
  • Death
  • Increased activity
  • Increase in wakefulness

After the initial rush, individuals using meth typically experience a state of great agitation  or “crash” that can lead to violent behavior.  As the drug leaves their system, users can experience:

  • Irritability, aggressiveness, or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia, which can be extreme, leading to thoughts of homicide or suicide
  • Hallucinations and delusions, such as sensations of insects crawling on skin
  • Intense cravings for the drug
Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine

The long-term effects of methamphetamine use include:

  • Psychosis
    • Paranoia
    • Hallucinations
    • Repetitive motor activity
  • Impaired mental health
  • Dependence
  • Stroke
  • Cardiac valve thickening
  • Decreased lung function
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Changes to brain structure and function
  • Severe damage to dopamine receptors
  • Deficits in thinking and motor skills
  • Increased distractibility
  • Memory loss
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Weight loss
  • Changes to the brain – may be permanent
  • Loss of dopamine transporters – associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning similar to symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Impaired cognitive functioning- affecting memory, emotion, reward system
  • Extreme dental problems
  • Decreased blood flow and supply

Cognitive Impairment

  • The use of stimulants produces significant cognitive impairment and is frequently accompanied by severe paranoia
  • Users have difficulty concentrating, impaired short-term memory, and a relatively short attention span
  • It is often difficult for stimulant users to make sense of what is happening to them
Signs That Someone You Love is Using Meth

If someone is using meth, you may notice this person:

  • Not sleeping for long periods of time
  • Experiencing a loss in appetite
  • Losing large amounts of weight
  • Appearing unusually active, or remaining active for unusually long periods of time
  • Seeming nervous or anxious
  • Exhibiting unexplained and extreme shifts in behavior

Other signs to look for:

  • Small bags of white or brown powder
  • Broken light bulbs
  • Pop or soda cans with a hole in the side
  • Small pieces of crumpled up aluminum foil
  • Shafts of inexpensive ballpoint pens
  • Scorched spoons



Treatment and Recovery from Meth Addiction

Recovery is possible!Recovery can take a long time and is a challenging endeavor, but with the right help a meth user can recover. Please don’t hesitate to contact help if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to meth or any other substance.Here is a link to our help page.
Treatment Practices

Best practice methods for treatment of methamphetamine addiction include:

  • Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities
  • Education
  • Family and group therapy
  • Self-help groups
  • Long-term treatment programs

There is currently no pharmacological treatment for meth addiction.  However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse continues to research and develop this area.


How Treatment Benefits Our Society

For every $1 spent on addiction treatment, society earns $7 in benefits, including: savings on medical care, mental-health services and welfare payments, increased employment, and reductions in criminal activity.


Image courtesy of: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) http://www.drugabuse.gov/]

Environmental Damage of Meth

For every pound of meth produced, 5-6 pounds of toxic waste is produced.  Meth “cooks” routinely dump this waste into streams, rivers, fields, backyards and sewage systems.  Cleaning up these sites requires specialized training and costs an average of $2,000 to $4,000.
Research about the Damaging Effects of Meth

  • After 2 months of abstinence, longtime meth users still had reduced levels of dopamine transporters
  • After 9 months drug free, dopamine transporters showed substantial recovery, but motor skill and memory damage remained
  • While protracted abstinence may reverse some of the meth-induced alterations in brain function, other deficits can persist – such as Anhedonia or inability to feel pleasure
  • Those who abuse meth may be at a substantial risk for severe serotonin neuronal damage in the brain – which can potentially lead to to persistently elevated aggression
Meth’s Affects on Children

The “Meth Home”The “Meth Home” lifestyle (lab or not) is characterized by chaos, emotional and physical deprivation, the presence of firearms and weapons, and filthy surroundings. Children who live in this lifestyle face severe risks, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, medical neglect, fires, explosions, possibly inhaling, ingesting, or absorbing toxic chemicals, drugs, or contaminated food. Health hazards also include Hepatitis A & C, E coli, syphilis, and HIV. In a “Meth Home,” living and play areas may be infested with:

  • Rodents and insects
  • Cockroaches, fleas, ticks, lice
  • Hazardous waste, rotten food, condoms, dirty needles
  • Toilets and bathrooms blocked up and unusable
  • Baby bottles stored among toxic chemicals
  • Ashtrays and drug paraphernalia (razor blades, syringes pipes) often found scattered within child’s reach, sometimes even in cribs

Social Problems

Children developing within the chaos, neglect, and violence of a methamphetamine abusing home experience stress and trauma that significantly affect their overall safety and health, including:

  • Impaired behavioral, emotional, and cognitive functioning
  • Low self-esteem, sense of shame, poor social skills
  • Without effective intervention, many will imitate their parents and caretakers when they themselves become adults, engaging in criminal or violent behavior, inappropriate conduct, and alcohol and drug use

Two Case Studies: Children Found in Meth Lab Homes

The living areas and physical condition of children found in two meth lab homes are described below.
The five children ranged in age from 1 to 7 years old.  The one-bedroom home has no electricity or heat other than a gas stove with the oven door opened.  Used hypodermic needles and dog feces littered areas of the residence where the children were found playing.  Because there were no beds for the children, they slept with blankets underneath a small card table in the front room.  The bathroom had sewage backed up in the tub, leaving no place for the children to bathe.  A subsequent hospital exam revealed that all the children were infected with hepatitis C.  The youngest was very ill.  His liver was enlarged to the size of an adult’s.  The children had needle marks on their feet, legs, hands, and arms from accidental contact with syringes.
At another lab site, a 2-year-old child was discovered during a lab seizure.  Her parents both abused and manufactured methamphetamine.  She was found with open, seeping sores around her eyes and on her forehead that resembled a severe burn.  The condition was diagnosed as repeated, untreated cockroach bites.
(Source:  Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning, n.d., Multi-Agency Partnerships:  Linking Drugs with Child Endangerment, Sacramento CA, p. 9)

Effects of Meth Exposure in Pregnancy

Methamphetamine taken by a pregnant woman is more likely to produce a toxic effect on the fetus than any other illicit drug.  Meth is poisonous to the baby’s/child’s brain cells, both before and after birth.Exposure to methamphetamine during pregnancy results in:

  • Increased chance of placental hemorrhage
  • Increased chance of premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Damage to the brain, leaving children with behavior and language problems,  learning disabilities, and suffering from sensory problems
  • Poor suck and swallow reflex, which leads to poor rate of growth
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Increased incidence of birth defects, such as cardiac defects, cleft palate, and miscarriage

References: National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/methrrs.pdf



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