What is Methamphetamine (Meth)?

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Methamphetamine, also known as meth, crystal, ice, or speed, is a powerful, highly addictive drug. Meth affects the central nervous system and increases dopamine in the brain, which impacts movement, motivation, and decision-making.

Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, eaten, or inserted into the anus or urethra. Meth appears as glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks and is often smoked with a glass pipe (often called a "flute"). 

methamphetamine

Meth is chemically similar to amphetamine, a prescription drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic (man-made) chemical, unlike other drugs like cocaine. Meth is manufactured in illegal, hidden laboratories by mixing amphetamine (another stimulant drug) or derivatives, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and other chemicals to boost its potency. 

Eleven million Americans, on at least one occasion, have tried methamphetamine.

Why Do People Smoke Meth? 

Meth is popular among users for various reasons. 

Many users take meth for its energy-boosting effects. Some users take meth because it can lead to rapid weight loss. Others take meth because the sense of euphoria it gives can last for up to 12 hours. Others may be attracted to meth use by the increased libido and sexual pleasure associated with the drug.

Smoking is the most prevalent way to consume meth. Most users smoke crystal meth, but users can also smoke meth in powder form. Smoking meth has a more substantial impact on the brain than other forms of drug use and is the fastest way to get the drug to the brain. 

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What Happens in the Body When You Smoke Meth?

When you smoke meth, the drug enters the bloodstream and brain very quickly. Smoking meth causes an immediate, intense "rush", and amplifies the drug's addiction potential and adverse health consequences. The rush lasts only a few minutes and is described by users as highly pleasurable.

The immediate effects of meth are intense pleasure and clarity. Meth users say they have lots of energy and can think clearly, feel like they can make good decisions, and plan effectively.

The effects of meth usually last between four to twelve hours.

Common Side Effects of Smoking Meth

There are both short- and long-term effects of snorting meth:

Short-Term Effects 

The short-term effects of smoking meth include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Itching
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Chest pain
  • Increased sex drive
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased focus
  • Increased energy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Reduced appetite

Long-Term Effects

The long-term effects of smoking meth include:

  • Addiction
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood disturbances
  • Confusion
  • Violent behavior
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Memory loss
  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Dental problems (‘meth mouth’)
  • Withdrawal symptoms

In addition to these negative health consequences, long-term meth use can lead to relationship issues and financial and legal difficulties.

Health Risks of Smoking Meth 

One of the most significant risks of smoking meth is the likelihood of causing addiction. According to The Office of National Drug Control Policy, users are more likely to become addicted to meth if they smoke it than if they consume it in any other form. When you smoke meth, the drug reaches the brain quicker, which induces intense pleasure immediately. 

Smoking meth increases the risk of "meth mouth," which refers to several dental problems that arise from meth use. Symptoms of meth mouth include tooth decay, inflamed gums, and tooth loss. 

Individuals who use meth for an extended period may experience meth withdrawal symptoms, including depression, exhaustion, and intense cravings for the drug.

Long-term meth use can lead to a meth overdose, which can cause a heart attack, stroke, coma, or death. In the United States in 2017, about 15 percent of all drug overdose deaths involved methamphetamine.

What are the Symptoms of Meth Use?

Meth use can lead to any of the following behavioral symptoms:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Physical aggression
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Absenteeism at school or work
  • Erratic speech patterns, including rapid speech or not talking at all

Meth use can lead to any of the following physical symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Uncontrollable twitching or muscle spasms
  • Foul body odor
  • Decaying teeth
  • Excessive acne
  • Skin sores

Meth use can lead to any of the following cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Extreme confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Lack of ability to reason
  • Poor judgment
  • Learning difficulties
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosocial symptoms:
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Episodes of prolonged mania
  • Psychosis
  • Episodes of severe depression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy

Does Smoking Meth Increase Addiction Risk? 

Users who smoke meth, versus injecting, snorting, or other forms of use, are more likely to develop an addiction. This is because smoking meth causes the biggest and quickest "rush" or "flash" which leads to dependency.

Many meth users use the drug in a"binge and crash" pattern, meaning that they take multiple hits in succession to try and maintain their high by continually taking more of the drug. Some meth users go on "runs," which are drug binges during which they don't eat or sleep for up to days at a time.

Is Smoking or Snorting Meth Worse?

Any illicit use of methamphetamine by any means comes with certain risks of side effects and negative health consequences. Smoking methamphetamine increases addiction risk. However, snorting meth is also dangerous and can pose other health risks.

Snorting meth leads to less intense effects than other methods of use. Snorting produces a euphoric high, unlike the intense rush caused by smoking the drug. This high lasts for only a few minutes.

The less severe effects of snorting meth than smoking may be why some individuals believe they are at less risk of experiencing addiction, overdose, or adverse effects by snorting it. However, snorting meth produces an additional set of risks while increasing the general dangers of use.

The dangers of snorting methamphetamine include:

  • Damage to sinuses
  • Increased nosebleeds
  • Damage to nose lining and nasal tissues
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Risk of addiction or physical dependence

Treatment Options for Meth Abuse & Addiction 

Many methamphetamine addiction treatment programs are available, including inpatient, outpatient, partial hospitalization, and detox programs. 

Meth use is a significant public health issue, with nearly one million people in the United States diagnosed with a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017.  However, fewer people seek help, with substance abuse treatment rates for meth declining by 28% from 2005 to 2015.

Treatment for meth addiction includes behavioral therapies and counseling, all under the supervision of trained health care professionals. Medication can also help withdrawal symptoms and behavioral health/mental health issues. 

As with any drug addiction, the proper treatment for meth addiction depends on each individual and their specific needs and background. 

Usually, a rehab center will conduct a consultation to understand the full scope of the patient's needs before recommending a treatment plan. Meth addiction often coincides with mental health or substance use disorders, and the right treatment plan will consider any comorbidities.

With the right treatment plan, recovery is possible. If you or a loved one needs help with a substance use disorder, including meth use, contact an addiction specialist today to find a treatment center near you.

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Resources +

Bullen, James. “What Happens to Your Body When You Use Ice?” ABC News, ABC News, 20 Feb. 2017, www.abc.net.au/news/health/2017-02-20/ice-what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-use-the-drug/8275654

“Cardiotoxicity Associated with Methamphetamine Use and Signs of Cardiovascular Pathology among Methamphetamine Users.” NDARC, National Drug and Alcohol Research Center, https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/resource/cardiotoxicity-associated-methamphetamine-use-and-signs-cardiovascular-pathology-among

Drug Delivery Methods. University of Utah, https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/delivery/

“Know the Risks of Meth.” SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, www.samhsa.gov/meth.

“Methamphetamines and New Psychoactive Substances.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/ondcp/policy-and-research/ndcs/key-issues/meth-and-nps

NIDA. "Methamphetamine DrugFacts." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 16 May. 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

NIDA. "What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states

“What Is Meth Made of? How Is Crystal Methamphetamine Made? - Drug-Free World.” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth/what-is-meth-made-from.html

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