Methamphetamine is a highly addictive synthetic drug and central nervous system stimulant with limited medical use to treat narcolepsy, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Since the 1970’s, methamphetamine has been the most common illegally produced drug in the U.S. Methamphetamine is abused for its ability to enhance mood, causing euphoria, hyperactivity, decreased appetite, and a sense of invulnerability and well-being. These effects are heightened when methamphetamine is used in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs. Methamphetamine’s euphoric effects are similar to, but longer lasting, than those of cocaine.
Methamphetamine is illegally manufactured in clandestine laboratories in varied forms that can be snorted, smoked, orally ingested, or injected. Immediately after taking the drug, users who smoke or inject the drug experience a short-lived rush or high, followed by a longer agitated period in which they may become violent. These users will often binge on methamphetamine, taking the drug repeatedly every two to three hours to experience the initial high over and over again, forgoing eating and sleeping for days at a time. Users who snort or ingest the drug experience a longer lasting, less intense high.
Because the ingredients to manufacture methamphetamine are inexpensive and easy to obtain, the number of methamphetamine laboratories is growing, making the drug readily accessible to youth and young adults. The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimates that 8.8 million people (four percent of the U.S. population) have tried methamphetamine at some time in their lives.
Methamphetamine is also known by the following street names:
- Bikers’ Coffee
- Chicken Feed
- Methlies Quick
- Yellow Bam
- Poor Man’s Cocaine
- Go Fast
- Crystal, Crystal Meth
- Stove Top
- Yaba (the Thai name for a tablet form of methamphetamine mixed with caffeine)
Consequences of Methamphetamine Abuse
The effects of methamphetamine abuse are devastating. Methamphetamine stimulates brain cells and enhances mood and body movement by releasing high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Methamphetamine also damages the brain cells that release dopamine, over time causing the body to produce less dopamine. This results in symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. Research has shown that prolonged use of methamphetamine can lead to damage of half of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain. The nerve cells that contain serotonin, another neurotransmitter, may be damaged even more profoundly.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Drug Abuse Warning Network, between 1993 and 1995, deaths due to methamphetamine overdoses rose 125 percent, and between the first half of 1996 and the first half of 1997, methamphetamine-related emergency room visits doubled. Short-term effects of methamphetamine use are dangerous increases in body temperature and the possibility of overdose. If the drug is injected, users are at risk of infections such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Methamphetamine is highly addictive, and can lead to chronic abuse. Long-term methamphetamine abuse results in many damaging effects, including violent or psychotic behavior, anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, mood changes, delusions, homicidal or suicidal thoughts, and permanent brain damage. The drug may cause cardiovascular complications such as increased heart rate, damage to the lining of the heart, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. Because lead acetate is often used in manufacturing methamphetamine, users are at risk of acute lead poisoning.
Overdoses of methamphetamine may result in increased body temperature, convulsions, and death. With continued use, tolerance for methamphetamine may develop, with users needing to take the drug more often or in higher doses to achieve the same high. Because methamphetamine is so addictive, if chronic users suddenly stop taking the drug, they may experience psychological withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, and intense cravings for the drug.