Methamphetamine, often referred to as meth or crystal meth, is a central nervous system stimulant that is made from a combination of chemicals. The most common ingredient is pseudoephedrine or ephedrine which is also found in cold medicine. Acetone, drain cleaner, and battery acid are among other ingredients that are cooked and turned into crystal meth.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II drug, which means that it is tightly controlled due to its high potential for abuse, but accepted for certain medical use with tight restrictions. There is an FDA-approved form of the drug, but the majority of methamphetamine is obtained and abused illegally. When meth is abused, this substance can have detrimental effects on a person’s physical and mental health.
Types of Drug Abuse
Drug abuse in the US is a growing problem, and meth abuse is a significant contributor to the country's drug crisis. In 2020, around 2.6 million people over the age of 12 reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months. Since 2014, the number of deaths involving psychostimulants - primarily methamphetamine - has risen significantly each year, with 23,837 deaths in 2020. Crystal meth can be abused in various ways, including orally-ingested snorting meth, and smoking or injecting meth, all of which have profoundly dangerous effects on health.
One way of abusing meth is to snort it, meaning to inject it nasally by inhaling the substance quickly into the nose. When snorting meth, a meth user will first grind the meth crystals into a fine powder. Snorting meth introduces the substance directly to the central nervous system and is one of the most potent forms of administration. This is why many people snort meth to speed up the onset of the effects.
Another method of consumption is injection. When injecting crystal meth, methamphetamine users will melt the substance into liquid form and administer it intravenously, with a needle. Injecting meth generally causes the effects to be felt much quicker as the drug directly enters the bloodstream to travel to the brain, avoiding the respiratory or digestive systems. It also poses a variety of increased risks associated with unhygienic needle practices and can increase the risk for infection or blood-borne disease.
Smoking methamphetamine is another common method of meth use. Smoking meth typically involves heating the fragments of meth in a glass pipe and inhaling the smoke. This can cause serious lung damage and a problem called 'meth mouth' in addition to other effects of substance abuse.
The Effects of Snorting Meth
Meth users experience a variety of harmful effects as a result of abusing the drug. As a central nervous system stimulant, meth generally gives an intense rush where meth users feel energized, with increased activity and talkativeness, appetite is decreased, and people often report feeling a sense of euphoria. Similar to other stimulant drugs, the drug wears off after a few hours, which leads people to take more to feel the pleasurable effects. Chronic users can even end up consuming meth in a binge-like fashion where they regularly take another dose to avoid the 'come down' effects.
Meth use can also cause physical dependence to develop, which is when the body becomes so used to the presence of the drug in your system that it can no longer function normally without it. This is often accompanied by a substance use disorder which generally requires a meth addiction treatment process.
Snorting meth can also cause damage to the blood vessels in the nasal passage which help transport the substance to the rest of the body through the heart. There is a high risk of losing your sense of smell, an increased risk of the nose collapsing, and many experience frequent nosebleeds as a result of damage to nasal tissues.
Effects on the Brain
People who snort meth often experience psychological side effects due to the effect that the drug has on the brain. Methamphetamine use causes an initial feeling of euphoria as a result of the drug increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is one of the predominant chemical messengers in the brain’s reward system and is also involved in memory and learning processes.
Chronic meth abuse causing dopamine to repeatedly flood the brain will cause an imbalance in the brain’s natural dopamine levels. As a result, people abusing meth often experience memory problems, struggle with motor skills and learning, as well as other cognitive deficits. Drugs that activate the brain’s reward system have a high potential for addiction and often leave users craving more.
Central Nervous System Effects
Snorting methamphetamine can affect the central nervous system (CNS) which is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system is involved in the actions, regulation, and maintenance of the majority of bodily functions. Methamphetamine use is linked to a decrease in the number of neurons in the central nervous system. These neurons generally can't be recovered or regenerated.
Long-Term Effects of Snorting Meth
Chronic methamphetamine abuse results in physical and psychological effects. People that snort meth experience long physical effects including:
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Motor skill problems
- Serious dental problems
Methamphetamine use can also increase the risk of stroke, gum disease, and Parkinson's disease. The effects of meth can also be psychological. The euphoria of the meth high can have long-term negative consequences on mental health. Regular meth use, repeatedly flooding the brain with dopamine, will often cause an imbalance in the natural dopamine levels of the brain.
Consequently, snorting methamphetamine is likely to cause cognitive deficits in addition to mental health disorders and challenges linked to too much or too little dopamine in different parts of the brain. Any drug that activates the brain’s reward system has a very high possibility to cause addiction. Users are left craving more and the cycle continues.
An overdose of meth, also called meth toxicity is a serious medical emergency and if you suspect that a person may be having an overdose, you should call the emergency services on 911 immediately.
Smoking meth can cause a large quantity of the drug to suddenly enter the body. If this amount is too large, the body will not be able to cope and will reach toxicity.
The Symptoms of a Methamphetamine Overdose
- Aggressive, anxious, angry, or paranoid behavior
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Manic, out-of-character behavior
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
Long-Term Effects of Meth Overdose
The long-term effects of a meth overdose depend upon which organs have been affected. Permanent damage to certain parts of the body may occur, which may cause:
- Seizures, stroke, and paralysis
- Chronic anxiety and psychosis
- Heart problems
- Other mental disorders such as depression
- Decreased mental functioning
- Destruction of muscles, which can lead to amputation
- Heart problems
- Kidney failure that requires dialysis
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that methamphetamine toxicity is best managed by a team of healthcare professionals including a social worker, cardiologist, addiction nurse, internist or pediatrician, and a mental health counselor. After a diagnosis of meth toxicity has been determined, the patient should be referred to a psychiatrist or a drug addiction center.
The first stage of recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is detoxification. This will often happen inside treatment facilities as detox can cause difficult and dangerous symptoms of withdrawal which appear when a person has become physically dependent on a drug.
Seeking addiction treatment requires you to allow all traces of the substance to leave the body and can often come with predictable symptoms called withdrawal symptoms. For many individuals, withdrawal is the greatest barrier to addiction treatment, and support from friends, family, and medical professionals is important. The dangerous and uncomfortable side effects of meth withdrawal can often cause drug users to relapse. Common adverse effects of meth withdrawal include:
- Fatigue, lethargy, and excessive sleepiness
- Increased appetite
- Dry mouth
- Depression, apathy, feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Extreme cravings for meth
- Paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions
Relapse during meth withdrawal can be particularly dangerous, due to the tolerance that builds with regular meth use. As all traces of meth begin to leave a person's body, the body's tolerance also decreases. If a person attempts to consume the same dose of the drug as they were taking at the peak of their drug use, a meth overdose is possible.
Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment
If you are struggling with substance abuse problems or substance addiction, there are treatment providers available to support you. As a result of the complex and harmful side effects of snorting, injecting, or smoking meth, recovery in a structured treatment program is almost always the most effective option. As meth is a highly addictive drug and withdrawal symptoms can be painful, relapse is common. A treatment center can prescribe medication to alleviate the pain of withdrawal.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management therapy are two highly effective substance abuse treatments, often used in meth addiction treatment programs. These are often to support people in outpatient or inpatient treatment programs who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Those who engage in CBT treatment show a reduced rate of relapse to meth addiction.
CBT works by helping you identify unhelpful and harmful thoughts and behaviors, and work out which of these have led to the drug abuse you have engaged in. Individuals seeking addiction treatment will work with a mental health professional, and through a series of CBT sessions, will learn to manage and deal with the problems that have led them to substance abuse. They will learn to build coping mechanisms and adapt behavior for the future. A professional treatment provider will show you how to change negative behavior patterns by changing the way you think and respond to situations.
Contingency management uses operant conditioning which is another way that treatment centers encourage individuals to abstain from methamphetamine or other harmful substances. Individuals will receive incentives, such as vouchers, badges, or tickets when they pass a blood test or urine test or reach certain milestones.
Support groups are another way of connecting with other people facing similar struggles with substance abuse. These groups often help people avoid relapse and build community.
If you are struggling with meth addiction and don't know where to turn, you are not alone. At Cornerstone, we offer a vast range of therapeutic approaches to addiction and mental health issues in a compassionate and respectful way. We understand that every person has a unique set of requirements that should be personally tailored to each individual. Substance abuse can disrupt all aspects of your life, but it is never too late to seek help and begin to turn your life around. If you would like more information on our treatment programs, contact Cornerstone today.