Methamphetamine 101

WHAT IS METH?

Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. 

Other common names for methamphetamine include blue, crystal, ice, meth, and speed.

WHO USES METH?

Meth is used in a variety of age groups, lifestyles and neighborhoods. Meth’s reputation for increasing energy, alertness and sexuality is a magnet for many types of people, including curious teens, college students, truck drivers and shift workers, and older adults. Girls and women are drawn to meth for these features and as a weight loss tool.

WHERE DOES METH COME FROM?

Currently, most methamphetamine in the United States is produced by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) in Mexico. This methamphetamine is highly pure, potent, and low in price. The drug can be easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications. To curb this kind of production, the law requires pharmacies and other retail stores to keep a purchase record of products containing pseudoephedrine, and take steps to limit sales.

Methamphetamine production also involves a number of other very dangerous chemicals. Toxic effects from these chemicals can remain in the environment long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of health problems for people living in the area. These chemicals can also result in deadly lab explosions and house fires.

WHY IS METH ADDICTIVE?

Meth has been called a “double whammy” drug. When using methamphetamine, the user feels energetic and powerful, but a “crash” inevitably follows the “high”. To avoid or counteract the crash, the user takes more meth. Tolerance develops rapidly, often leading to addiction in a relatively short time. People who use meth often use other substances, including alcohol and heroin.

CAN A PERSON OVERDOSE ON METH?

Yes, a person can overdose on methamphetamine. An overdose occurs when the person uses too much of a drug and has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death.

In 2017, about 15 percent of all drug overdose deaths involved the methamphetamine category, and 50 percent of those deaths also involved an opioid, with half of those cases related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl. (CDC Wonder Multiple Causes of Death—see #42 on Meth RR.)  It is important to note that cheap, dangerous synthetic opioids are sometimes added to street methamphetamine without the user knowing 

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF METH?

Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant. Use results in increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, elevated temperature and wakefulness. These effects can last 8 – 24 hours.

SHORT TERM EFFECTS OF USING METH

Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same health effects as those of other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include:

  • increased wakefulness and physical activity

  • decreased appetite

  • faster breathing

  • rapid and/or irregular heartbeat

  • increased blood pressure and body temperature 

LONG TERM EFFECTS OF USING METH

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

  • extreme weight loss

  • addiction

  • severe dental problems ("meth mouth")

  • intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching

  • anxiety

  • changes in brain structure and function

  • confusion

  • memory loss

  • sleeping problems

  • violent behavior

  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

  • hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they aren't

HOW DOES METH AFFECT THE BRAIN?

Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors. The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behavior, making the user want to repeat the experience.

EFFECTS OF METH ON THE INDIVIDUAL 

Meth use can cause heart palpitations, nausea, damage to blood vessels in the brain, shortness of breath, mental confusion, malnutrition, anorexia, severe anxiety and depression. A more severe manifestation of chronic toxicity is a state of paranoia closely resembling paranoid schizophrenia. Psychotic symptoms include visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and delusions of parasites and bugs in the skin. Continued use may lead to permanent damage to the brain or death. Meth use affects the heart and cardiovascular system. Prolonged use of meth can lead to heart disease and heart failure.


Meth use has been closely linked to teen suicide. Users who inject meth and share needles risk exposing themselves to the AIDS virus and passing it to others.

EFFECTS OF METH ON THE COMMUNITY

Meth labs are toxic and affect everyone’s environment. For each pound of finished methamphetamine, seven pounds of waste is produced. Ingredients include substances which can cause chemical burns or can easily ignite. Clean up of labs is dangerous and very expensive. Keep in mind that the only lab sites that get cleaned up are the ones that are found.


Since labs have largely moved south of the border, the effects on community are more evident on area neighborhoods where dealing and use occur. Property crimes are linked to meth use. Harding and unsightly debris are also associated with homes where meth use and dealing are the norm.