There often is more than one way to abuse a drug, and so is the case with methamphetamine (meth for short), a highly addictive psychostimulant substance that affects the central nervous system.
Meth can be smoked, inhaled or snorted, injected, or orally ingested. The preferred method depends on where the user lives.
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Crystal meth, one form of the drug, appears as small pieces of glass or shiny rocks that are blue-white in color. Meth abuse reportedly has outpaced that of heroin and cocaine, reports the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the cheap substance that is easy to make continues to be illegally produced throughout the United States and illegally imported from Mexico.
Most of the methamphetamine used in the U.S. is produced and distributed illegally, according to data in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. According to the survey, more than 1.7 million people age 12 or older reported illicit meth use in 2015; nearly 900,000 people age 12 or older reported use in the past month.The main ingredients that have so many users hooked are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Both are commonly found in cold medicines sold over-the-counter in one’s local pharmacy.
Other toxic chemicals are added to the meth mixtures, including acetone, battery acid, fertilizer, ether, red phosphorus, and lithium, among others. These hazardous chemicals used to “cook” the drug remain toxic and harm the environment long after illegal production labs are shut down, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
People have different reasons for using meth, and therefore, its effects on the people who use it vary. Chemically, when people use meth, the substance floods the brain with large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter the brain normally releases in small amounts when the person experiences something pleasurable. The drug also raises heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and body temperature.
Once the drug is consumed, users feel a quick euphoric high that can give them pleasure and confidence. This is because brain neurotransmitters have been elevated, and this results in a boost to the user’s energy level and moods. VeryWell Mind writes that meth users may not always feel euphoric but “blunted,” which means they are less aware of their feelings.
“This can sometimes be a motivating factor for meth users who want to escape from painful memories or difficult life circumstances, although, of course, the escape is temporary, and frequently problems are worsened by substance use,” according to VeryWell Mind’s article.
Meth is typically abused in a “binge and crash” pattern that has users seeking more of the drug after its effects wear off but before its concentration falls significantly in the bloodstream. Abusers often run on little food and sleep while bingeing on drugs for days or several nights straight.
Snorting and smoking are two common ways people use meth. Both are dangerous and lead to adverse results, including a hard-to-end addiction.
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Before meth is snorted, it is chopped up or crushed into a powder to make it easier to snort. Inhaling the powder usually requires a straw, a rolled-up dollar bill, or a hollowed-out ballpoint pen, according to Tweaker.org.
Once inhaled, the nasal passages begin to absorb the substance. Users will feel the drug take effect within three to five minutes. Snorting also allows the body to metabolize the drug faster.
Once it is snorted through the nose, users typically experience a surge in energy and alertness. They may lose their appetite as they experience an intense rush of euphoric feelings brought on immediately upon use.
Meth users typically experience nosebleeds as they damage the linings of their nasal passages while snorting the drug. They also damage their sinuses and are at risk of having a deviated septum. Users who shared straws or bills are at risk of transmitting germs, such as ones that accompany the common cold to serious diseases such as Hepatitis C and possibly HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
People who snort meth may notice these various physical and psychological symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Increased physical activity
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased breathing rate
- Dangerously elevated body temperature
- Weight loss
- Unpredictable behavior
- Paranoia, irritability
- Performing repetitive, meaningless tasks
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Uncontrollable jaw clenching
- Sudden death
The risk of having a heart attack or stroke increases with meth use as well as dental problems.
After the highs come the lows, or the period known as the crash. People may continue to use meth just to avoid “coming down” from the drug or avoid unpleasant feelings. People in crash mode also exhibit:
- Extreme fatigue
- Strong meth cravings
- Mental confusion
Chronic, long-term meth abuse will adversely affect users over time. The effects they experience include:
- Damaged nerve terminals in the brain
- Brain damage similar to Alzheimer’s
- High blood pressure
- Prolonged anxiety, paranoia, insomnia
- Psychotic behavior, violence
- Auditory hallucinations
- Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
- Weakened immune system
- Strokes, heart infection, lung disease, kidney/live damage
- Increased high-risk behaviors
- Increased risk of accidental, accidental death
Tweaker.org says that after a certain point, snorting meth becomes ineffective because the nasal passages can’t absorb any more of the drug because of overuse, congestion, or tissue damage. This may be one reason some users move on to another method, which is smoking it.
Smoking meth is the most popular way the substance is used. The high produced after smoking meth reportedly lasts six to 24 hours and is stronger than that of cocaine. As Tweaker.org explains, the drug is heated in either a glass pipe, bowl, or stem until it becomes gaseous or in its smoke state.
Once inhaled, the smoke enters the bloodstream through the lungs. According to Tweaker.org, it takes no more than 10 seconds or so for it to take effect, and the highs are much more intense than those of other methods.
Smoking meth is said to cause addiction at a faster rate because of how quickly it enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain. Addiction also occurs faster because smoking the drug likely means larger quantities are being consumed at a rate that’s much faster than if the drug was being snorted or swallowed.
Signs that someone is smoking meth include:
- Eyes that dart back and forth or blink excessively
- Abnormal weight loss
- Decaying gums, teeth
- Gray or leather-like skin texture
- Burn marks on the fingers, mouth; track marks
- Skin sores from where users have picked at imaginary “crank bugs”
People who smoke meth increase their risk of contracting a lung infection and other diseases, such as those affecting the gums and teeth. Breathing difficulties and coughing are side effects that are especially dangerous to people who have already have an existing health problem, such as asthma and emphysema.
Eventually, many meth users reach the point where using the drug no longer brings the pleasures that it used to. This is known as “tweaking,” when the body and mind can’t achieve the meth high any longer. This is a dangerous stage. Users are typically fatigued because they haven’t slept in days, and they are hungry but have forgotten to eat because they have spent days getting high.
People who are in this stage also may use alcohol or heroin to self-medicate against depression. Tweaking is one of the real dangers of smoking or injecting meth and needs to be taken seriously. It is not uncommon for users to behave in unpredictable ways and become a danger to themselves or others.
Tweaking brings on hallucinations of bugs. Tweakers’ eyes may dart around rapidly, or their pupils may be dilated, and they may appear to be shaking when standing still. A person at this stage needs help before they become a danger to themselves or others.
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How Dangerous Is Meth?
Meth use quadrupled in overdose deaths from 2011 to 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In addition to the surge in deaths, we’ve also seen an admission to treatment facilities for the drug. There has been a 17 percent uptick in those seeking treatment for the dangerous drug. It begs the question, “How dangerous is meth?”
With the popularity of meth skyrocketing out in the western United States and the middle of the country, hospitalizations related to methamphetamine has shot up 245 percent from 2008 to 2015.
Local law enforcement officials have described meth as being their No. 1 target, but it’s also their most significant threat that challenges the public safety of communities.
Meth is neurotoxic and can cause long-term damage to dopamine and serotonin neurons in the brain. The drug is made illegally, which often contains other toxic substances that users may not be aware of.
While we focus on the damage sustained directly from use, what is less talked about is that use of the drug is linked to higher frequencies of unprotected sex and violent behavior.
What this means is use can lead to physically harming others because of violent outbursts, or someone can pick up a sexually transmitted disease, which can cause even more damage.
Other studies have shown meth use can lead to structural and functional changes in the brain related to memory and emotion. Some of these changes, unfortunately, are irreversible. Meth toxicity increased when used in conjunction with cocaine, alcohol, or opiates.
SAMHSA. (June 2016). “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved August 2018 at from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015.pdf
Hartney, Elizabeth, Ph.D. (June 13, 2018). “Understanding the Feelings Associated With a Meth High.” VeryWell Mind. Retrieved August 2018, at from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-does-it-feel-like-to-get-high-on-meth-22357
Tweaker.org. “Ways Guys Do Meth.” Retrieved August, 2018, at from http://tweaker.pub30.convio.net/crystal101/waysguysdo.html
FNP, K. D. (2018, June 28). Methamphetamine: Facts, effects, and health risks. Retrieved from from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/309287.php
Gorman, A. (2018, November 26). Overshadowed By Opioids, Meth Is Back And Hospitalizations Surge. Retrieved from from https://khn.org/news/overshadowed-by-opioids-meth-is-back-and-hospitalizations-surge/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 29). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates