Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive synthetic (man-made) stimulant drug that affects the brain and central nervous system in a number of different ways.
Although closely related chemically to amphetamine drugs, the central nervous system effects of methamphetamine are greater. Meth is recognized as one of the most devastatingly addictive and physically debilitating drugs in circulation today.
What Exactly is Meth?
Composed of pseudoephedrine (a decongestant) and other toxic chemicals (including battery acid, car antifreeze and drain cleaner), methamphetamine hydrochloride is “cooked” into clear, chunky crystals resembling ice. Meth may also appear as an off-white, crystalline cocaine-like powder or in pill form. Depending on which medium the drug appears as, a meth use may snort, smoke, swallow or inject the drug.
The high from meth may only last for a few minutes but is described as being intensely pleasurable, though brief. This addictive sensation produces the urge in users to continue using meth at higher frequencies and increasing dosages.
Methamphetamine is manufactured in illegal makeshift laboratories throughout the country and has a high potential for abuse and dependence. This street methamphetamine is referred to by many names, including:
- Stove top
- Crystal Meth
- Poor Man’s Cocaine
Health Hazards of Methamphetamine
The addictive properties of meth coupled with its intense (and false) sense of energy and well-being pushes users to consume more and more of the drug at increasing levels despite the very apparent health risks. Meth users are infamous and easily spotted by signs of physical deterioration as well as indications of mental psychosis which may begin to set in.
When consumed, methamphetamine causes releases high levels of dopamine in the brain, a chemical responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells of the brain. Dopamine also serves as a “feel-good” chemical, stimulating brain cells, enhancing mood and body movement. Over time, methamphetamine appears to interfere with the body’s natural dopamine production system, resulting in a major failures related to motor skills and learning capacity. As a result, chronic meth users may display symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, a severe movement disorder.
Animal research dating back as far as 20 years shows that high doses of methamphetamine may cause damage to neurons which contain dopamine and serotonin. These neurons do not die necessarily, but their nerve endings (“terminals”) are cut back significantly, and re-growth appears to be limited.
Additional long- and short-term effects of meth abuse may include any of the following:
- Extreme weight loss
- “Meth mouth” (periodontal disease and decay, caused by a number of factors related to meth use)
- Temporary bouts of increased energy, wakefulness and physical activity, followed by a “crash”
- Anxiety/feelings of paranoia
- Aggression and violence
- Elevated blood pressure
As a stimulant drug, methamphetamine causes the heart rate and blood pressure to rise. As such, irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain can occur, inducing brain infarction (stroke). Other adverse effects and health risks related to methamphetamine use include respiratory problems as well as extreme anorexia and malnutrition. Meth use can also result in cardiovascular collapse and death.
Extent of Meth Use Among High School Students
The Monitoring the Future study assesses the extent of drug use among adolescents (8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders) and young adults across the country. Recent data from the survey, as extracted from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website: