Methamphetamines are drugs that act as a stimulant on the central nervous system (CNS). This category of drugs are sometimes used as scheduled medication for the treatment of conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. However the narcotic methamphetamine or ‘meth’ is usually concentrated and produced in illegal make-shift laboratories known as meth labs.

By using a narcotic methamphetamine,  a euphoria (high) that is often described as ‘intensely pleasurable’ to the user is quickly followed by a ‘downer’ or ‘comedown’ (low) that is experienced as a severe depression and fatigue. The effects of methamphetamines make it a likely drug for abuse and addiction as the  user will require repeated doses (‘hits’), not only to maintain a high, but to avoid the after effects of the drug.

Methamphetamine (methyl-amphetamine) is known by many street names with ‘crystal meth’, ‘ice’,  ‘crank’ and ‘glass’ being the most common. Narcotic methamphetamine come in many forms including :

  1. Rough white powder that is bitter and odorless.
  2. Small crystal-like particles that are partly translucent and known as ‘ice’.
  3. Yellow chunks known as ‘rocks’.

The popularity of this drug has boomed globally affecting both developed and developing nations as it is fairly inexpensive compared to other narcotics like cocaine. Crystal meth is a different narcotic from ‘crack’ cocaine, the cheaper, less pure form of cocaine. While both these drugs have similar effects on the brain and many street names are at times  used synonymously, crystal meth is not crack cocaine and vice versa.

Use of Crystal Meth

Crystal meth can be administered in many ways, depending on the individual preference of the user.

  1. Smoking crystal meth is one of the more popular methods of administration. The effects are felt quickly, within a few seconds.
  2. Injecting crystal meth after dissolving it into a solvent like water also has fast acting effects within a few seconds.
  3. Inhaling meth by snorting it through the nose will bring about the effects within a few minutes.
  4. Eating or swallowing methamphetamine is also possible and while the the effects may only be felt 20 minutes after ingestion, it usually has a longer lasting effect.
  5. Rectal suppositories are a method of administering methamphetamine through the anus. This is not as widely practiced as other methods of crystal meth use.

Effects of Crystal Meth

Like any narcotic, the effects are both physical and psychological. Methamphetamines act on the central nervous system by triggering a flood of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Simultaneously, meth prevents the reuptake of dopamine, allowing this hormone to have a longer lasting effect.

Dopamine is a chemical that transmits signals between neurons (nerve cells) in the brain but not all neurons produce or release dopamine. The dopamine neurons most affected by methamphetamine use is located in an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. It is also called the pleasure center and here dopamine is associated with motivation and reward. Dopamine is often secreted with activities like sex or eating foods that you enjoy.

Methamphetamines act on the nucleus accumbens, triggering a sudden rush of dopamine. The stimulation by meth is so pronounced that it may trigger a dopamine release up to six times higher than under normal pleasurable circumstances. This flood of dopamine creates a sense of euphoria known as the high which can last for many hours. However once the effect wears off, the user will experience a ‘downer’ which is marked by fatigue, depression and other mood changes.

Prolonged use of methamphetamine will impair cognitive abilities, hampering the thinking and learning process. The speech centers may also be affected leading to a verbal impairment.  It may also affect fine motor skills and lead to tremors, rigidity (muscle stiffness) and/or muscle weakness. It is important to note that Parkinson’s disease, which is a degenerative neurological disease, is caused by low levels of dopamine. Long term use of methamphetamines may affect dopamine production and release, even after quitting the drug and may cause secondary parkinsonism, which presents similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Short Term Effects of Crystal Meth

The immediate effects of crystal meth may continue to last for up to 12 hours or more depending on the dose administered and the individual tolerance. Some of these short term effects are characteristic of all crystal meth ‘hits’, while others may not be present.

  • Euphoria (‘high’)
  • Burst of energy
  • Extremely alert
  • Compulsive behavior typically seen as a need to clean or repeat the same action
  • Paranoia and aggression
  • Talkativeness, agitation and irritability
  • Panic, confusion and violent behavior
  • Increased libido
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of sleepiness or insomnia
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature
  • Palpitations and irregular heart beat
  • Diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting may also occur
  • Tremors or convulsions
  • Hallucinations

Symptoms of Crystal Meth Use

The symptoms of crystal meth use is related to its effects on the central nervous system. However this is at times difficult to identify in the user who has just started using the drug and is hiding their addiction from their friends and family. The most obvious physical signs include  sunken eyes, with dark baggy eyes, a facial droop, pallor, noticeable mouth dryness, with dark blue-black lips and and signs of poor dental health. These signs may not always be initially visible and the first signs and symptoms noted by the family and friends of a crystal meth user is the change in behavior and personality.

Episodes of extreme happiness and excitement followed by depression and pronounced sadness are easily spotted by  those who personally know the user and this may be in stark contrast to the person’s regular behavior and personality. This may also be marked by compulsive behavior that can be mistaken for obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), bipolar disorder or even ADHD. During the early “tweaking” phase, uncharacteristic behavior of the individual may include incessant talking and rambling, false sense of confidence, irregular sleep patterns, disinterest in daily life and rapid jerking of the eyes from side to side known as nystagmus, when looking through the corner of the eye.

A user may become a social recluse often finding new friends who are usually crystal meth users themselves. The frequency of violent behavior in crystal meth users may put both family and friends in harm’s way and require professional intervention to prevent a further progression in anti-social tendencies. Crystal meth users often break away from regular duties, whether it is their occupation, interests or even household chores. There upkeep and hygiene is poor and they may be prepared to partake in illegal activities in order to acquire money to fund their habit or release their aggression.

Crystal Meth Abuse and Addiction

There is no specific period of time in which a person will develop a crystal meth addiction. A number of social, psychological and physiological factors play a role in addiction and rehabilitation requires professional intervention and assistance.

Over time, the addict will need higher doses of crystal meth to reap the same effects, which will last for shorter periods. This begins the cycle of addiction and abuse. It is further accelerated by the social interaction among users, with other addicts and peddlers, encouraging the habit or forcing the use of larger amounts of crystal meth more frequently.

Any person who feels a need to use crystal meth, whether to combat the after effects of a previous hit, or to relax and be sociable, is an addict. Abuse of crystal meth can be fatal, especially in cases of an overdose or the use of ‘bad’ meth, which is bulked up (‘cut’) with other toxic compounds. Many crystal meth addicts describe the feeling of being sober as extreme pain and believe they are physically experiencing this sensation. This compels addicts, who cannot access more meth, to abuse alcohol or other narcotic and/or prescription drugs.

Crystal Meth Test

Recovering crystal meth addicts may need to undergo regular testing to ascertain their continuing abstinence from the drug. This may be part of their rehabilitation or conditions of professional sporting activities or work related duties. Crystal meth tests can be conducted with home test kits or urine and blood sample may be sent to a pathology laboratory for more accurate testing. The body breaks down and excretes half of the methamphetamine within 24 hours. Byproducts may be detectable in the urine up to 72 hours after use while blood testing may reveal methamphetamine metabolites up to 4 to 6 days after use.

Resources

  • Crystal Meth Anonymous

Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on April 12, 2011