What is Meth?
Methamphetamine (also called meth, crystal, chalk, and ice, among other terms) is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine. It takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder.
How Is Methamphetamine Abused?
Methamphetamine is taken orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate, intense euphoria. Because the pleasure also fades quickly, users often take repeated doses, in a “binge and crash” pattern.
How Does Methamphetamine Affect the Brain?
Methamphetamine increases the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to high levels of that chemical in the brain. Dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function. Methamphetamine’s ability to release dopamine rapidly in reward regions of the brain produces the euphoric “rush” or “flash” that many users experience. Repeated methamphetamine use can easily lead to addiction—a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.
What Are the Other Health Effects of Methamphetamine?
Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same physical effects as those of other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and increased body temperature.
Long-term methamphetamine use has many negative consequences for physical health, including extreme weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), and skin sores caused by scratching.
Methamphetamine use also raises the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C. These can be contracted both by sharing contaminated drug injection equipment and through unsafe sex. Regardless of how it is taken, methamphetamine alters judgment and inhibition and can lead people to engage in these and other types of risky behavior.
Methamphetamine use may also worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Studies indicate that HIV causes more injury to neurons and greater cognitive impairment in individuals who are HIV-positive and use methamphetamine than it does in HIV-positive people who do not use the drug.