Health Library

The Menace of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine—or meth—is a highly addictive drug. It is a Schedule II controlled substance. It can be prescribed. But most meth that is abused is made in illegal labs.

Meth is related to the legally prescribed stimulant amphetamine. But it has stronger effects. The drug causes an immediate feeling of increased activity, or a "rush," along with decreased appetite.

Meth is known on the street as speed, tweak, uppers, or black beauties. The drug is taken in pill form. Or it can be snorted or injected in powdered form. It can also be smoked. This crystallized meth is a more powerful form of the drug.

Wide appeal

Meth lures people looking for a high. But it also appeals to women trying to lose weight or those seeking a burst of energy to make it through the day. In fact, women use meth at rates that are about equal to men. That is unlike many other illegal drugs, which are mainly used by men.

When meth starts to wear off, abusers face 2 options. They can suffer through what can be a 3 day bottoming-out period. That may include irritability, listlessness, and headaches. Or they can take another dose to ease their suffering. But they then risk addiction.

More and more people are taking that second dose. People hear the myths that the drug does good things and lasts 12 hours a dose. They feel they can work longer hours, study more, and lose weight.

Meth can also be easily found. Unlike other stimulants, it can be made in the kitchen sink using cheap household ingredients. But the process can be dangerous. Explosions are possible.

Excess energy

Addiction is closely tied to how quickly a user feels a drug's effect. Most meth users either smoke or inject it. Both methods rapidly bring on euphoria. This euphoria is followed by up to 12 hours of what feels to the user like endless energy. Everything speeds up. There is a decreased need for sleep. Users talk a lot and lose their appetite.

People who abuse cocaine also get a feeling of euphoria. But the body quickly gets rid of the drug. The good feeling rapidly diminishes. Meth remains in the body far longer, prolonging its effects.

Meth coaxes the body to work harder. The heart rate increases and metabolism speeds up. The brain's ability to balance sedation and activity is altered. The increase in heart rate can lead to aneurysms and heart failure, even in the very young. The drug drives the heart to exhaustion.

Chronic meth abusers can suffer long-term health effects. The drug can damage areas of the brain that control muscle movement, verbal learning, emotions, and memory. Meth use can also cause malnutrition, aggression, psychotic behavior, and severe dental problems. It also increases the risk for stroke. Some of this damage may be reversed if a person quits abusing the drug. But recovery can take years.