METHAMPHETAMINES

Methamphetamine

Pills and powder

Crystal

SLANG

METH

SPEED 

CRYSTAL

CRANK

CHALK

ICE

GLASS

UPPERS

WHAT IS METH?

Methamphetamine is a man-made Schedule II controlled substance and a highly addictive stimulant.  It is available in a powdery substance or pill form and is white and odorless.  It is a bitter tasting and dissolves easily in water or alcohol.  It can be made from ingredients that are used in products like batteries, drain cleaner, fertilizer, nail polish remover and paint thinner.  The chemicals used to produce meth are highly corrosive, toxic and ignitable. 

Another form of this drug is “crystal meth,” which resembles tiny glass fragments or shiny blue-white rocks.

 

HOW IS IT USED? 

Meth can be swallowed, snorted, injected or smoked, with the preferred method of using varying be geographical region.

Smoking or injecting the drug puts it very quickly into the bloodstream and brain, causing an immediate, intense rush and amplifying the drugs addition potential and adverse health consequences.  This rush lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable.

Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria, but not an intense rush.  Snorting produces effects within 3-5 minutes and oral ingestion within 15-20 minutes.

The toxicity of meth increases when used with alcohol, cocaine or opiates and as with most stimulants, meth is most often misused in a “binge and crash” pattern.  Because the pleasurable effect disappear before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly, users try to maintain the high by taking more of the drug.  In some cases they go on a “run”, which is skipping food and sleep for up to several days while continuing to take the drug.

 

AFFECTS ON THE BRAIN

Meth neurotoxin and causes changes in the brain circuits that control reward, stress, decision-making and impulse control, making it more difficult to stop using even when it is having a negative effect on one’s life and health.  Meth stays in your system much longer than other drugs, with only 50% being removed from the body after 12 hours.  Frequent use can lead to tolerance and withdrawal, so you need more of the drug just to feel normal. Short term effects can include anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue or insomnia and an intense craving.  While long term effects include paranoid or delusional thinking, serious psychological illness, violent or aggressive behavior and confusion.

Some studies have found that some of the brain damage caused by chronic meth abuse is partially reversible. Motor and verbal memory have shown to improve after about 14 months of abstinence from methamphetamine.

However, other brain functions damaged by meth abuse may not recover even after 14 months, or may reoccur if triggered by stress long after a person has stopped using. 

Recovery of Brain Dopamine Transporters in Chronic Methamphetamine (METH) Users
Methamphetamine misuse greatly reduces the binding of dopamine to dopamine transporters (highlighted in red and green) in the  brain area important in memory and movement.

Meth Sores

Meth Mouth

AFFECTS ON THE BODY

Taking even a small amount of meth can result in a rapid breathing, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and hyperthermia.  High doses can elevate body temperature to dangerous levels and cause convulsions, cardiovascular collapse, heart attack, stroke, organ failure and even death.  Other negative consequences of chronic use includes extreme weight loss, severe dental problems and skin sores which are caused by scratching.

Meth use also affects the levels of dopamine in your brain.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects movement, motivation, emotions and feelings of pleasure.  However once the drug is no longer in the user’s system this pleasurable sensation can be followed by unpleasant feelings of drug withdrawal, something called a “crash.” Because meth causes a flood of dopamine to the brain the natural supply gets depleted.  As a result activities that would normally increase dopamine and pleasure may no longer do so, which can lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue and a craving for more of the drug.  This “crash” often leads to a person using more meth to avoid these uncomfortable physical and psychological effects.

SECOND HAND EFFECTS

Exposure to secondhand methamphetamine smoke can cause a person to test positive for meth.  Currently research is being conducted to see if breathing secondhand smoke can get a person high or have other health effects.

IT IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT IT SEEMS

As much as 60% of what a person injects, snorts, or smokes is not meth.  Powder sold as meth may contain many other substances, including lead acetate or mercury, which are both toxins and can lead to poisoning. 

 

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

Meth comes from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was developed in the early 20th century.  It was originally used in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers.   However, methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that at the same does, much great amounts of meth enter the brain making it a more potent stimulant.  It also has a longer lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system. These characteristic make it more likely to be misused and is why legally it is only available through a no refillable prescription.  Currently it is only prescribed to treat obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  

Today Mexican Cartels have become the primary producers and distributors of illegal methamphetamine to all 50 states, with the highest availability in the western and Midwestern regions of the US.  Their product is very pure, potent and inexpensive.  Meth can be easily made in small clandestine laboratories with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients.  Domestically it is typically made with diverted products that contain pseudoephedrine.

When meth is smuggled into the U.S. in powder or liquid form, domestic conversion laboratories transform it into crystal meth.  These labs do not require much equipment and are small in size so they are easily hidden.  Meth pressed into pill form is intended to resemble ecstasy in an effort to make meth more appealing to people who haven’t tried it before.  As with other illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine, meth is sometimes laced with fentanyl making it even more deadly.

Drug Cartel routes from Mexico to the U.S.
Meth transportation routes within the U.S.
Availability of meth in the U.S.
Over the counter pseudophedrine products
Clandestine domestic lab in a kitchen
Everyday products used in the production of methamphetamine

CAN YOU OVERDOSE AND/OR DIE ON METHAMPHETAMINE?

Yes a person can overdose on meth.  It is a dangerous and potent chemical and, as with all drugs, a poison that first acts as a stimulant, but then begins to systematically destroy the body.  When a person uses too much of a drug and has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death, it is an overdose.

Since a meth overdose often leads to a stroke, heart attack or organ failure, these conditions have to be treated first in order to survive.  In 2017, about 15% of all drug overdose deaths involved the methamphetamine category and 50% of those deaths also involved an opioid, such as fentanyl.  These dangerous opioids are added to street meth without the user knowing. 

 

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO STOP ABUSE?

In an effort to stop domestic production Congress passed The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 which requires retailers of non-prescription products containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine or phenylpropanolamine to place these products behind the counter or in locked cabinets.  In addition, consumers much show identification, sign for each purchase and are limited to how much they can purchase per day.

 

TREATING ADDICTION

There are no government approved medications to treat methamphetamine addictions, however, research into the development of medicines and other noninvasive treatments to combat methamphetamine addiction are underway.  Currently one of the most effective treatments is cognitive – behavioral therapy which helps patients recognize, avoid and cope with the situations that are likely to trigger their drug use. 

Meth lab clean-up
Meth lab explosion

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Meth production involves many easily obtained chemicals that are hazardous, such as acetone, fertilizer, red phosphorus and lithium.  These chemicals are toxic and can remain in the environment around the lab long after the lab has left, causing a wide range of damaging effects to health or humans, animals and the environment.  In addition, they are often combustable.

Since 2010, restrictions on the chemicals used to make meth have drastically reduced domestic production in the United States   Mexico has also tightened its restrictions on pseudoephedrine and other methamphetamine chemicals, but the Cartels have come up with a new chemical that does not require pseudoephedrine in their production.

Sources:

How is Methamphetamine Manufactured?. drugabuse.gov.  October 2019. Web. 17 Aug. 2020.

                 Content source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Methamphetamine. DEA.gov.  August 2018. Web. 17 Aug. 2020.

Methamphetamine. verywellmind.com.  March 22, 2020. Web. 17 Aug. 2020.

Methamphetamine: What you should know. medicalnewstoday.com.  June 28, 2018. Web. 18 Aug. 2020.

Opioid Overdose – Psychostimulants. CDC.gov.  August 2018. Web. 14 Aug. 2020.

                Content source: Centers for Diesease Control and Preventions, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Tips for Teens: The Truth About Methamphetamine.  SAMHSA.gov. April 2018. Web. 14 Aug. 2020.