What is Meth (Methamphetamine)?

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Meth is short for methamphetamine, a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The legal version of meth, Desoxyn, can be prescribed to obese patients to help them lose weight. The street version of meth, which is highly addictive and dangerous, is not legal. 

Desoxyn is chemically similar to amphetamine. This drug is also used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep condition.

Methamphetamine boosts the amount of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is a natural chemical in the brain. It is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors. Meth’s ability to quickly release high dopamine levels in the brain strongly influences drug-taking behavior, making the user desire to repeat the drug use.


The ‘high’ from meth starts and fades quickly. Users often take repeated doses in a ‘binge and crash’ pattern. Some people take methamphetamine in a binging method known as a ‘run.’ During a run, users avoid eating food and sleeping while taking the drug every few hours up to several days.

Street names for methamphetamine include:

  • Crystal meth
  • Blue
  • Crystal
  • Ice
  • Meth
  • Speed
  • Glass

People can take meth in various ways. These methods include:

  • Smoking
  • Swallowing (in pill form)
  • Snorting
  • Injecting powder dissolved in water or alcohol

Methamphetamine transformed into pill form is becoming increasingly popular. In pill form, the drug is designed to resemble ecstasy. This may make methamphetamine more appealing to people who haven’t tried it yet. 

Even ingesting small amounts of methamphetamine can lead to many of the same health problems and side effects that other stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines introduce. These short-term side effects include:

  • Increased wakefulness and physical activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Faster breathing
  • A rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure and body temperature

What is Meth Made Of?

Transnational criminal organizations in Mexico make most methamphetamine in the United States. This form of meth is extremely pure, potent, and cheap. The drug is often made in small meth labs with inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients.

These ingredients include pseudoephedrine, a common substance used in cold medicines. Toxic materials also used to make meth may consist of benzene, brake or drain cleaner, lithium, cat litter, and lye.

Similar to other illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, meth is sometimes laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is like morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs because it takes very little to produce a high with it, making it a cheaper option.

When methamphetamine is illegally brought into the United States in powder or liquid form, meth labs turn it into crystal meth. These meth laboratories do not require much equipment, so they can be small in size and easily hidden. This makes it challenging for law enforcement agencies to uncover the meth labs.

Meth production is also an environmental issue. The process of creating meth involves the use of many hazardous chemicals. These chemicals include:

  • Acetone
  • Anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer)
  • Lithium
  • Red phosphorus
  • Ether

These chemicals damage the environment and linger in the atmosphere long after a meth lab has closed. The toxicity from the chemicals can lead to a wide range of significant health problems. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given guidance on the cleanup and remediation of meth labs.

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What Does Meth Look Like?

Methamphetamine is typically a white powder or pill. Sometimes it looks like glass fragments or shiny bluish-white rocks.

When the powder comes off the rock, the shards can resemble glass. This is where the street name ‘glass’ comes from.

Depending on the purity, meth may also look slightly yellow.

What Does Meth Smell Like?

Meth often has no odor. However, sometimes it has a faint chemical scent. While some people claim that methamphetamine has no smell, others say the potent stimulant provides a subtle chemical smell.

Often, the scent of meth comes from the chemical ingredients used to produce the stimulant drug.

The drug smells of meth can resemble the following:

  • Acetone nail polish remover
  • Cat urine
  • Rotten eggs
  • Burning plastic

Meth labs often emit chemical odors, and exposure to these damaging substances can cause health problems and injury.

What Does it Smell Like When Smoked?

The scent of methamphetamine varies when smoked. However, vapors emitted from smoking meth often resemble an ammonia-like scent similar to solvents, glass cleaner, paint thinner or cat litter, or urine.

What Does Meth Taste Like?

Meth users often describe the drug as having a bitter taste. Similar to its smell, meth may have notes of ammonia, burning plastic, and other chemicals.

Most of the flavors of meth originate with the substances used to make meth. Any item that’s used to make meth can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. 

Some people do not ingest meth by mouth because the taste can be too difficult to tolerate.

Treatment for Meth Abuse & Addiction

There are several ways to treat meth drug abuse and addiction. If you or a loved one is experiencing meth substance abuse or addiction, it is essential to seek professional medical help. 

While medications can help treat some substance use disorders, there are currently no medicines that counteract the unique effects of methamphetamine. There are also no medications that prolong abstinence and reduce meth use in individuals addicted to the drug.

Treatment For Meth Overdose

Meth use can potentially lead to an overdose. A methamphetamine overdose can lead to a stroke, heart attack, or organ issues. Because of this, first responders and emergency room doctors must attempt to treat the overdose by addressing these conditions. 

Emergency help must restore blood flow to the affected area of the brain to prevent a stroke. They must also restore blood flow to the heart to stop a heart attack and treat the organs' issues.

Behavioral Therapies

One of the most effective meth addiction treatments is behavioral therapy. This includes cognitive-behavioral and contingency management interventions.

For example, the Matrix Model is a 16-week comprehensive behavioral treatment approach for meth addiction. It combines behavioral therapy, counseling, 12-step support groups, family education, and more. Treatment programs like these are effective in reducing meth use.

Contingency management interventions provide incentives in exchange for attending and engaging in treatment. These treatments are also effective in maintaining meth abstinence.

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Resources +

What is methamphetamine?, National Institute on Drug Abuse, May 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine 

How is methamphetamine manufactured?, National Institute on Drug Abuse, October 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/how-methamphetamine-manufactured 

What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine?, National Institute on Drug Abuse, October 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-people-who-misuse-methamphetamine 

What is fentanyl?, National Institute on Drug Abuse, February 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl

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