Methamphetamine, also known as meth, crystal, chalk, speed, crank, or ice is an extremely addictive psychostimulant drug. Meth affects the central nervous system by elevating mood, alertness, and energy levels. Classified as a schedule II drug, methamphetamine is illegal. Under rare occasions, meth is prescribed for treating certain conditions such as obesity and ADHD (Attention-deficit hypersensitivity disorder). So, what is Meth, why does it exist, and why is it so addictive?
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine is an easy-to-make synthetic drug. It exists as two enantiomers, levo-methamphetamine, and dextro-methamphetamine (more effective stimulant than the former). Methamphetamine is a mixture of both these enantiomers in an equal ratio.
Levomethamphetamine is sold as an over the counter medication in the US owing to its nasal decongesting properties. In fact, methamphetamine was first used as a nasal decongestant and a respiratory stimulator when it was discovered in the late 19th century.
How Does It Work?
Being a very potent stimulant, methamphetamine potentiates the effects of certain neurotransmitters (chemical substances in the brain required for impulse transmission) like dopamine, serotonin (widely known as the happy molecule), and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These neurotransmitters cause increased liveliness, heightened senses, and euphoria. The person also seems to become more confident and thoughtless and appears to make poor choices. All of these can have risky consequences for both the user and others around him.
Why Is Meth So Addictive?
Therefore, methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug. Dopamine, the hormone associated with pleasure stays in the synapses (space between two neurons where impulses are transferred) for longer periods than normal and provides the person with intense pleasure. When the user does not take the drug, the body is no more capable to produce the hormone naturally and this compels the person to take the drug again and again so that they can feel up to the mark. This makes them addicted eventually.
How Is Meth Used?
Methamphetamine is usually
- Snorted and smoked: these are the most common methods
- And orally ingested: rarely used methods
- Vaginal or rectal insertion
Effects Of Meth Use
Methamphetamine is a highly euphoric drug. It also has aphrodisiac properties (this means that it increases the user’s sexual desire, sexual behavior, or sexual pleasure).
In low to moderate doses, it can make you feel better, it makes you over-talkative, and makes you feel more energetic. However, in high doses, it can cause rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of skeletal muscle), seizures, bleeding in the brain and psychosis, particularly paranoid psychosis (this condition is similar to the paranoid form of schizophrenia with the patient experiencing visual or auditory hallucinations, having persecutory delusions and violent behavior). Persistent use of high doses of this illicit drug can cause rapid mood changes, psychosis, and depression.
According to multiple pieces of research, methamphetamine is found to be neurotoxic to dopaminergic neurons and to a lesser extent to the serotonin neurons particularly if high doses are consumed.
- dilated pupils (mydriasis)
- decreased appetite
- increased heart rate and blood pressure (higher doses may precipitate cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, and circulatory collapse)
- flushed skin
- dry mouth (xerostomia)
- hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
- teeth grinding and clenching (this can lead to something known as ‘meth mouth’. People with meth mouth lose their teeth abnormally early owing to the chronic teeth grinding caused by the drug)
- rapid breathing
- high body temperature, etc.
- The person may also experience formication (I.e., a feeling of insects crawling all over the skin). This can lead to chronic itch and in the long run, may result in sores due to all the scratching.
- Lung damage because of the irritant nature of smoked methamphetamine
When used recreationally, tolerance to this drug develops rapidly. That is, the user requires a higher and higher dose to produce the same high.
Eventually the user will be unable to feel good without the drug and will experience symptoms when they aren’t consuming the substance. This is known as drug dependence and the person is said to become addicted to the drug. Addiction can make the person have blackouts, memory loss, depression, mood swings, etc.
Addiction can have a multitude of emotional, physical, and psychological effects on the person and the society (increased homelessness and poverty, increased health care burden, increase in domestic disputes, etc.)
Withdrawal symptoms occur when the drug is abruptly stopped. These can be really frustrating for the user. Generally, the longer a person has been using meth, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms are likely to be.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms related to methamphetamine include:
Overdose & Treatment
A methamphetamine overdose is a life-threatening condition.
Factors that increase the likelihood of an overdose include mixing meth with other drugs like alcohol, using larger and larger amounts of drugs, injecting the drug, and if the person has other co-morbidities like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Symptoms range from hyperpyrexia, arrhythmias, painful urination(dysuria), overactive reflexes, muscle aches, rapid breathing for moderate doses to an adrenergic storm, severe psychosis, cardiogenic shock, kidney failure, pulmonary hypertension, serotonin syndrome (syndrome resulting from too much serotonin in your body) for very high doses.
Overdose with meth also results in brain damage due to its toxic effects on the dopaminergic and serotoninergic neurons.
Acute methamphetamine toxicity is managed by giving palliative treatment (treating the symptoms) and administration of activated charcoal.
Stopping Meth Use
Here, the general criteria for treating any substance abuse apply. Education and targeted treatments at high-risk groups should be undertaken. Inpatient rehab programs are frequently preferred and are associated with a good remission rate. Pros of being inpatient include being under the surveillance of the professional health care worker 24/7. Also, withdrawal symptoms can be adequately treated. All of this can be an icing on the cake if the person is actually motivated to change and start a better and new life.
This process can take years and requires immense love and support from friends and family.
Conclusively, even though getting over the drug can be really challenging and grueling, it is all worth it to get away from the negative effects of the substance and starting a better life.