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What is Meth (Methamphetamine)?

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 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

Summary

Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It can be smoked, snorted, swallowed (in pill form), or injected (after being dissolved in water or alcohol). It quickly boosts dopamine levels. The high is very short and intense, leading to a 'binge and crash' pattern.

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, 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.

Summary

Most of the meth in the U.S. comes from Mexico. It is made from over-the-counter substances. Meth production involves many hazardous materials that cause environmental damage and health problems for nearby residents. Some meth gets laced with fentanyl, an extremely powerful and dangerous opioid that can lead to overdose.

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

When it is used, meth can smell faintly like chemicals. Some say it has a slightly sweet scent as well.

When it is being made, the meth lab smell may resemble:

  • "Hospital smell"
  • Acetone nail polish remover, vinegar, or ammonia
  • Paint or paint thinner
  • Cat urine
  • Rotten eggs
  • Burning plastic
Dangers of Meth Lab Exposure

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

Inhaling toxic fumes coming from a meth lab can cause the following:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory problems

The ingredients used to make meth are highly corrosive. They may cause severe burns on the mucous membranes of the eyes, throat, and nose. They can burn the skin, too.

When exposed to a meth lab, children are very susceptible to developing health problems related to meth manufacturing. They are at high risk for breathing problems, poisoning, and burns. Damage to the brain, heart, kidney, and liver may also happen. The immune system may also be affected and may trigger certain cancers like lymphoma and leukemia.

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, cat litter, or urine.

Summary

Meth labs often emit chemical odors resembling: "hospital smell," acetone nail polish remover, vinegar, ammonia, paint or paint thinner, cat urine, rotten eggs, or burning plastic. Exposure to these damaging substances can cause health problems and injury. When smoked, meth has a faint chemical and sweet smell.

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.

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How to Tell if Someone Is on Meth

People who use meth display certain behaviors and physical symptoms. These include:

  • Extreme alertness and bursts of energy
  • Constantly talking
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss (sickly appearance)
  • Mood swings and outbursts
  • Paranoia and erratic behavior
  • Dilated pupils and rapid eye movements
  • Rapid breathing
  • Erratic sleep schedule
  • Tooth or gum decay
  • Open sores or scars from scratching
  • Foul body odor
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Grinding teeth

Tweaking and Crashing

Tweaking is the term used for the end of a crystal meth high. It occurs when the user can't achieve the rush, high, or euphoria anymore. It usually occurs because they run out of the drug. They are left with intense cravings and despair.

Signs of tweaking include:

  • High levels of frustration and paranoia
  • Intense cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Feeling imaginary bugs crawling on the skin
  • Disconnection from reality or disassociation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Self-harm

Crashing is the first stage of meth withdrawal. It usually happens 1 to 3 days after the last use. It includes loss of energy and cognitive function. Often, people sleep for one to three days during their crash. This can lead to high-intensity cravings, insomnia, depression, and hopelessness.

Summary

Meth users display extreme bursts of energy, dilated pupils, excessive sweating, rapid breathing, and paranoia. They may develop foul body odor, tooth or gum decay, and open sores or scars from scratching. 'Tweaking' is the term for the erratic behavior displayed at the end of a meth high. 'Crashing' is the first stage of meth withdrawal.

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.

Summary

The Matrix Model is a comprehensive behavioral treatment approach for meth addiction.

Methamphetamine Statistics

1.6

Million

People reported methamphetamine use in 2016.

23

Years Old

The average age of new methamphetamine users is 23.3 years old.

61

Percent

Of people released from treatment for methamphetamine relapse within the first year.

Takeaways

  • Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive central nervous system stimulant that boosts dopamine levels
  • It can be smoked, snorted, swallowed, or injected
  • Meth causes a short and intense high, which creates a 'binge and crash' pattern
  • Most of the meth in the U.S. is made in Mexico
  • Meth production involves many hazardous materials that cause environmental damage and health problems for nearby residents
  • Meth labs often emit chemical odors resembling: "hospital smell, " acetone nail polish remover, vinegar, ammonia, paint, paint thinner, cat urine, rotten eggs, or burning plastic
  • When smoked, meth has a faint chemical and sweet smell
  • Meth users display extreme bursts of energy, dilated pupils, excessive sweating, rapid breathing, and paranoia. They may develop foul body odor, tooth or gum decay, and open sores or scars from scratching
  • 'Tweaking' is the term for the erratic behavior displayed at the end of a meth high. 'Crashing' is the first stage of meth withdrawal
  • The Matrix Model is a comprehensive behavioral treatment approach for meth addiction

Address Your Addiction

Don't let addiction control you. Give yourself the power to get help for your addiction today.

Call now (855) 217-2693

Resources

MORE
LESS

"What is methamphetamine?", National Institute on Drug Abuse, May 2019.

"How is methamphetamine manufactured?", National Institute on Drug Abuse, October 2019.

"What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine?", National Institute on Drug Abuse, October 2019.

"What is fentanyl?", National Institute on Drug Abuse, February 2019. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Misuse in the United States?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 8 Apr. 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine Trends & Statistics.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15 Dec. 2020.

Brecht, Mary-Lynn, and Diane Herbeck. “Time to Relapse Following Treatment for Methamphetamine Use: A Long-Term Perspective on Patterns and Predictors.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Elsevier, 11 Mar. 2014.

Related Pages

Crystal Meth: Side Effects, Addiction Symptoms & Risks

Meth Sores

Meth Overdose

Smoking Meth

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