Also known as: Chalk, Crank, Cristy, Crystal, Crystal Meth, Ice, Meth, Speed

What Is Methamphetamine?

MethamphetamineMethamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The most common form of methamphetamine found on the street is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.

Methamphetamine was developed early in the 20th century from amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of well-being or euphoria.

Methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant, which makes it legally available only through a nonrefillable prescription. Methamphetamine is used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).Methamphetamine is also used as a short-term component of weight-loss treatments, but these uses are limited and it is rarely prescribed.

How Methamphetamine Affects the Brain

Methamphetamine increases the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, leading to high levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and the body’s motor function. Methamphetamine causes dopamine to be released rapidly in the brain to produce a euphoric “rush” that users experience. Repeated use of methamphetamine can easily lead to addiction — a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.

How Methamphetamine Is Made

Most of the abused methamphetamine in the United States is manufactured in “meth super-labs” either here or, more often, in Mexico. But the drug is also easily made in small concealed laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicines.

How Methamphetamine Is Abused

Methamphetamine is taken orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate, intense euphoria. Because the pleasure also fades quickly, users often take repeated doses, in a “binge and crash” pattern.

 The Risks of Using Methamphetamine

People who use methamphetamine long-term may experience:
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • insomnia
  • mood disturbances
  • violent behavior
  • paranoia
  • visual and auditory hallucinations
  • delusions (for example, the sensation of insects crawling under the skin)

Chronic methamphetamine use is accompanied by chemical and molecular changes in the brain. Imaging studies have shown changes in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning. In studies of chronic methamphetamine users, severe structural and functional changes have been found in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in these individuals.

Health Effects of Using Methamphetamine

Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same physical effects as those of cocaine or amphetamines. These effects include

  • increased wakefulness
  • increased physical activity
  • decreased appetite
  • increased respiration
  • rapid heart rate
  • irregular heartbeat
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased body temperature

Long-term methamphetamine use has many negative consequences for physical health, including:

  • extreme weight loss
  • severe dental problems (meth mouth)
  • skin sores caused by scratching

Methamphetamine use also raises the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C. These can be contracted both by sharing contaminated drug injection equipment and through unsafe sex. Regardless of how it is taken, methamphetamine alters judgment and inhibition and can lead people to engage in these and other types of risky behavior.

Methamphetamine use may also worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Studies indicate that HIV causes more injury to neurons and greater cognitive impairment in individuals who are HIV-positive and use methamphetamine than it does in HIV-positive people who do not use the drug.

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