Meth is a highly addictive stimulant that can cause addiction in as little as one use in some users. This is mainly due to the rush of dopamine produced by the drug. Dopamine is a chemical that’s not only responsible for inducing feelings of pleasure, but also for motivation, memory retention, learning, and reward processing. The rush of dopamine produced by meth is much higher than the natural amount of dopamine that is produced in the brain, which causes people to continue using the drug in order to keep those heightened pleasurable feelings.
Many individuals who use meth take the drug over a period of several days, staying perpetually high throughout this duration of time. This often ends up in the development of a tolerance; after taking the drug for a prolonged period of a time a person will require higher and higher doses to feel the same effects as before. The stimulant effects, along with the drug’s affordability, can lead people to quickly become addicted. It may then become difficult to feel happy when attempting to stop taking meth, and withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and depression can occur when it wears off. The debilitation of withdrawal reinforces the behavior of abuse and likelihood of binging. After the reward system is dependent on the drug, the fear of withdrawal and cravings for meth often take over a person’s life.
Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant made from amphetamine and other derivative chemicals. Originally prescribed as a decongestant and weight loss aid, methamphetamine was once widely and legally available in tablet and injectable forms throughout the U.S. However, a large population abused these products for the stimulant effects, effectively prompting the FDA to restrict and regulate the drug as a schedule II controlled substance in 1970. There is currently only one prescription methamphetamine drug still on the market, Desoxyn, which is used to treat obesity and severe attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The majority of people that are addicted to methamphetamine use the drug in its illicit forms: meth and crystal meth. Meth is a crystalline powder that is most commonly white, though it can be yellow, pink, or brown. It is odorless, bitter, and can be dissolved in liquid. It’s most commonly consumed via smoking, snorting or injection. In some cases, it’s compressed into a pill and can be taken orally. Crystal meth is clear or blue and takes the shape of coarse crystals that are typically smoked. Many drug dealers will also “cut” meth with other substances to sell less of the actual drug for the same price and fetch a greater profit margin. In some cases, methamphetamine is cut with prescription medications, ranging from antidepressants to opioids. These additives can be extremely dangerous due to the drug interactions and increases the risk of overdose.
While the structural makeup of the two variations differ, both meth and crystal meth are chemically the same thing. Street names for methamphetamine include:
- Redneck cocaine
The vast majority of meth that is distributed today comes from illegal laboratories and imports. The product is typically cooked in “home labs” or “stove tops” in which a few people will produce small amounts of the substance. Meth is also produced in cartel “super labs” that include professional-grade equipment to produce the drug at higher quantities and quality. The key ingredient in meth is typically the stimulant ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which is found in some common over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Meth labs are notoriously dangerous because the gas and chemicals that are released during the drug’s creation process are toxic and combustible.
Meth Effects and Abuse
Any illicit use of methamphetamines qualifies as abuse. Similar to crack cocaine, meth produces a “rush” when smoked or injected; this is caused by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters in the brain. When meth is snorted, it creates a euphoric sensation, but not a rush. The rush from injection produces the strongest effects and can last up to 30 minutes. After the initial rush, people using the drug experience a steady high that can last anywhere from 8 to 24 hours depending on the mode of consumption. Injecting meth produces a stronger high than smoking or snorting, but the effects wear off more quickly. Meth users are known to stay up for multiple days in a row due to binge use and the stimulating effects.
Some of the most common effects of meth include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased wakefulness
- Irregular heartbeat
- Weight loss
Skin sores and infections from picking, tooth decay and “meth mouth,” and increased risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease are other common side effects of habitual meth use. People who regularly inject the drug may also suffer from collapsed veins and are at a higher risk of contracting blood-borne pathogen diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis due to shared needles.
Additionally, snorting meth can damage sinus cavities and nasal passages, which can lead to chronic nosebleeds. The effects that meth has on the heart and central nervous system can overwhelm the body and also lead to seizures, heart attack, stroke, and potentially-life threatening overdose. When meth is mixed with other drugs such as cocaine or alcohol, the likelihood of an adverse reaction and possible overdose is greatly increased. Long-term meth use can also cause significant damage to the brain and the cells that make dopamine, as well as to the nerve cells containing serotonin.
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Common Drug Combinations With Meth
Methamphetamine is often cut with other powerful substances, and some users will deliberately mix in or take additional drugs in order to elicit a stronger high. Some of the most common drug combinations with meth include:
The stimulant effects of meth can mask the sedative effects of alcohol and lead to someone drinking more than they would typically drink. Concurrent consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, increased psychosis and hallucinations, chronic liver damage, cancer, and sudden death.
People often mix meth and opioids for the poly-drug combination known as “speedball.” The combination produces a far greater high than either drug can generate on their own. Speedball will often cause the user to have difficulty walking, as well as suppressed avoidance responses. This makes them more likely to injure or cause harm to both themselves and others. The combination of an opioid drug with meth also increases the likelihood that an individual will overdose.
Anxiety is a common negative side effect of meth use. Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, can be used to combat these negative feelings. The result is an extremely addictive combination that often leads to heart issues. As the meth speeds up the heart, the Xanax slows it down. This can induce heart arrythmias, which can then lead to potentially-fatal heart failure.
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Meth is a highly dangerous and addictive substance. When someone suffers from an addiction to meth, it may seem like they will never be able to regain control over their life again. However, an addiction treatment program can help meth users break their physical and psychological dependence on the drug. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction to methamphetamine, contact a dedicated treatment provider and learn about your potential rehabilitation options today.