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Speed or methamphetamine, which goes by several street names including meth and crank, is an FDA-classified Schedule II stimulant drug. It is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Both are available via prescription.
Speed is a white powder that has no odor and a bitter taste. Users typically ingest it by snorting, injecting, or taking it orally. It can also be smoked like crack cocaine when it is in crystal form, which is called “crystal meth.” Crystal meth is the most dangerous form of speed and gives a faster rush. It is usually lab-created, though it’s easy to make and can be made at home in small “meth labs” using pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in over-the-counter cold medications. Users smoke crystal meth with a small glass pipe, but they may also swallow it, snort it, or inject it into a vein.
Within seconds of smoking or injecting speed, a person experiences a pleasurable rush that lasts a few minutes. Alternate methods of injecting speed do not produce a rush but the user experiences a high within a few minutes. The effects of methamphetamine also include:
Speed causes a release of high amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine and blocks the reabsorption of this chemical. This stimulates brain cells and enhances mood and movement. It’s this sudden release that causes the intense high and leads to addiction. Speed also increases serotonin levels and crosses the blood-brain barrier, which makes it more potent and longer-lasting than amphetamines.
The use of speed can lead to an addiction in a short time. Abuse of the drug tends to worsen as users grow more tolerant.
In addition to the physical effects of using speed listed above, the drug also produces several behavioral and emotional side effects, both positive and negative. For example, users tend to experience:
Unpleasant side effects are more common with higher doses and chronic use.
Abuse of speed also causes long-term side effects, some of which might be irreversible. In particular, the drug damages blood vessels in the brain which can trigger strokes. Other potentially fatal side effects include hyperthermia, cardiovascular collapse, and convulsions.
People with a speed addiction are prone to violence and hallucinations, and sometimes display symptoms similar to schizophrenia. These symptoms can continue for months or years after someone has stopped using speed. Speed use can also damage the cells in the brain that contain dopamine, which can lead to symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.
Methamphetamine abuse is also linked to:
As is the case with all IV drug users, speed users are at risk of acquiring HIV and hepatitis when they inject the drug with a needle.
There is some evidence that the side effects of using speed are partially reversible. Studies have shown that after about two years of not using speed, users experience motor skill and verbal memory improvements. However, many negative effects of speed are irreversible.
Speed is very addictive. Prescription methamphetamine is only available in the United States and in very low doses for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity.
Speed addiction symptoms can occur during withdrawal and include:
Taking speed is similar to using other stimulants. Its exact chemical structure differs, but the psychological and behavioral results of using these types of drugs tend to be similar.
The body metabolizes cocaine much faster than methamphetamine, which means the high from meth lasts longer and it remains in the brain for a longer time. The use of both drugs results in an increase of dopamine in the brain. Speed users experience three times the amount of dopamine as compared to cocaine users. This is because cocaine blocks reabsorption, while meth blocks re-absorption and increases dopamine release.
Treatment is available for those addicted to speed. A blend of behavioral therapy, counseling, participation in a 12-step program, drug testing, and family education has been effective for many people addicted to speed.
Although there are no medications approved for treating speed addiction, some studies have shown bupropion (Wellbutrin), a medication usually used to treat depression, could be useful for reducing cravings for speed. Bupropion has been shown to inhibit methamphetamine-induced dopamine release, which could make it a useful approach for treating a speed addiction.
Overdose is a risk for someone with a speed addiction. Addicts develop a high tolerance for the drug which leads to them using higher doses to achieve the same effects. Too high of a dose can trigger a heart attack, stroke, or organ failure, all of which are potentially fatal. It’s also possible to experience an immediate fatal reaction to speed no matter the dosage amount.
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Simmler, Linda D, et al. “Bupropion, Methylphenidate, and 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone Antagonize Methamphetamine-Induced Efflux of Dopamine According to Their Potencies as Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors: Implications for the Treatment of Methamphetamine Dependence.” BMC Research Notes, vol. 6, no. 1, 2013, p. 220, 10.1186/1756-0500-6-220
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How Is Methamphetamine Different from Other Stimulants, Such as Cocaine?” Drugabuse.Gov, 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/how-methamphetamine-different-other-stimulants-such-cocaine