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Updated on December 9, 2022
6 min read

Meth Overdose

What is Meth (Methamphetamine)?

Meth or methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that impacts the central nervous system (CNS). It is an incredibly addictive substance and lasts longer than amphetamines.

Your body will take approximately 12 hours to eliminate 50% of the drug from your system. Like amphetamine, methamphetamine can lead to:

  • Higher activity and talkativeness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Euphoria (an extreme sensation of pleasure and happiness)

However, unlike amphetamine, methamphetamine can enter the brain.

Common street names for meth include:

  • Meth
  • Blue
  • Ice
  • Crystal
  • Bikers coffee
  • Tweak
  • Chalk

A legal, pharmaceutical form of methamphetamine is available as a non-refillable prescription. Doctors use it to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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Meth Overdose Symptoms

If you overdose on methamphetamine, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Irritation
  • Chest pain
  • Coma or unresponsiveness (in extreme cases)
  • Heart attack
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (Irregular or stopped heartbeat)
  • Dyspnea (trouble breathing)
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature)
  • Renal failure (kidney damage) 
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Stroke

What Happens When Someone Overdoses on Meth?

There are two types of methamphetamine overdose:8

  • Acute (sudden) methamphetamine overdose occurs when someone takes meth accidentally or on purpose
  • Chronic (long-term) methamphetamine overdose refers to the health consequences of using meth regularly

In acute methamphetamine overdose, a person may accidentally or purposefully take the drug and have life-threatening side effects.6, 8 These side effects could include multiple organ failure and hyperthermia (higher body temperature). 

In chronic methamphetamine overdose, adverse health effects can happen over time. This could consist of delusional behavior and repeated infections.

What to Do if You Suspect an Overdose

If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call your emergency medical help immediately. You can contact your: 

  • local emergency number (911) 
  • National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222

It is crucial to seek emergency medical help for someone experiencing an overdose.  However, you’ll also want to be extremely careful around them.

Because of the drug’s potent effects, they could be a danger to you as well. This holds especially true if the person seems highly excited or paranoid. 

If the person is overdosing and experiencing a seizure, gently hold the back of their head and turn it to the side, if possible. This can help prevent injury and asphyxiation (choking) by vomit.

Do not stop the arms and legs from shaking or place anything in the person’s mouth.

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Treatment for an Overdose

Doctors may use physical restraints in overdoses (or acute intoxication) to prevent harm to themselves or others. Physical restraints may be bandages or cuffs restricting a person’s movement. 

People who overdose may turn hostile because of methamphetamine-induced paranoia. Doctors will aim to treat life-threatening signs and symptoms if present. This includes:

  • A compromised airway
  • Seizures 
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature)

Doctors may also administer benzodiazepines and antipsychotics for sedation and seizure management. If individual patients are awake, activated charcoal may be a treatment option.

Activated charcoal can help bind toxins.7 This can aid in absorbing meth and/or other drugs in the digestive tract. 

Doctors may administer a crystalloid intravenously to eliminate the drug through the urine. It will prevent sudden kidney failure. Crystalloids are mineral salts and other small, water-soluble molecules.

Death from methamphetamine toxicity is frequent. These deaths often include:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Internal hemorrhage (bleeding in the skull)
  • Cardiogenic shock (when the body cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands)

What Causes Methamphetamine Overdoses?

Methamphetamine belongs to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule II classification group. This means that this drug has a high potential for abuse and can cause physical and psychological dependence

Because methamphetamine is commonly misused, there is an increased risk of overdose. 

The following are some explanations as to why a person may have a methamphetamine overdose:

1. Taking higher doses than prescribed or using illicit meth

People may increase their dose because the drug no longer has the same effect as before. However, this is dangerous. Methamphetamine is a potent drug and remains in the body for a long time. 

2. Suicidal thoughts

Some people may overdose on meth to die by suicide. Too much of this drug can fatally cause a heart attack or stroke. 

3. Mixing with other substances

Methamphetamine can have drug-alcohol or drug-drug interactions. 

When this happens, you could become disoriented and lose good judgment. This change in decision-making may lead you to take more of the drug to get high.

It is also not rare for people who inject methamphetamine to have a history of opioid injection and heavy polydrug use. Polydrug use is when you mix drugs or take one drug while under the influence of another drug.

Risks of Meth Use

Methamphetamine carries many health risks. 

Injecting methamphetamines can have a high risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C. This could happen because non-sterile drug equipment has blood or other bodily fluids containing the virus(es). 

People dependent on meth can have financial and social problems. They may also have an increased risk of mental health problems

Methamphetamines can impair judgment and decision-making. This can lead to risky behaviors like:

  • Unprotected sex
  • Violence
  • Driving under the influence (DUI).

Low-level exposure to methamphetamine could damage as much as 50% of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that gives you the feeling of pleasure or happiness.

Short-Term Side Effects of Meth Use

Methamphetamine may have the following short-term side effects:

  • More alertness and physical activity 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • More rapid breathing 
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure)
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) or tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Hyperthermia (higher body temperature)

Long-Term Side Effects of Meth Use

Long-term side effects may include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Kidney failure
  • Insomnia
  • Addiction
  • Severe tooth decay and gum disease (“meth mouth”)
  • Excess itching and skin sores caused by scratching
  • Anxiety
  • Neurological changes 
  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Violent behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Death

Finally, illegal methamphetamine production could expose people to harmful chemicals, possible burns, and explosions. Depending on case severity, an overdose could lead to irreversible damage.

2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)

One study has suggested that people who once took methamphetamine have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (a gradual nerve system disorder that impacts movement). 

A study by Curtin et al. in Drug Alcohol Dependency Journal

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Treatment for Methamphetamine Use/Addiction

Currently, no drugs are available to counteract the effects of methamphetamines or those caused by long-term abstinence. 

However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has conceived a method called MIEDAR (Motivation Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery)

Here is a list of therapy options if you or a loved one have problems overcoming a methamphetamine addiction:

The incentive-based approach has been shown to encourage cocaine and methamphetamine abstinence.

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Updated on December 9, 2022
8 sources cited
Updated on December 9, 2022
  1. McKetin, Rebecca, et al. “Methamphetamine Addiction.” Principles of Addiction, Academic Press,  2013.
  2. Methamphetamine Overdose: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine,  2021.
  3. Methamphetamine.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Government.
  4. NIDA. "Methamphetamine DrugFacts." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019. 
  5. NIDA. "What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?" National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  6. Richards, John R. “Methamphetamine Toxicity.”  U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  7. What Treatments Are Effective for People Who Misuse Methamphetamine?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  8. Methamphetamine overdose.” Mountsinai.org.

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