Crystal methamphetamine, better known as crystal meth or simply meth, is a highly addictive drug made of a volatile mixture of household chemicals. Crystal meth affects the central nervous system, causing a powerful rush due to a flood of dopamine throughout the brain.
Unlike legal forms of amphetamines, such as those used to treat disorders like ADHD, crystal meth is highly illegal and is generally only used for recreational purposes. Unfortunately, the effects of prolonged abuse can be very damaging, and substance use disorders involving meth can be extremely hard to overcome.
What Is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is a synthetic form of methamphetamine that is known for its glass-like look, hence the name. It’s not available in any legal form, so it’s solely sold on the street by drug dealers.
It’s derived from prescription amphetamines but provides an additional high not generally available in legal prescriptions for behavioral disorders. Due to its euphoric properties, meth is very popular among certain demographics and in several regions of the country.
Meth isn’t naturally-occurring, like some forms of opioid. Instead, it can be made in home laboratories. It often contains pseudoephedrine, a cold medicine now sold behind the counter in pharmacies to attempt to regulate its use, acetone, iodine, hydrochloric acid, lye and toluene. Many of these chemicals are found in dangerous substances like drain cleaner and brake fluid, leading to an odd combination of toxic substances.
Making meth is extremely dangerous due to the nature of the chemicals in use. Improper procedures can result in explosions and death. Most meth in the United States is produced in super-labs in Mexico, but home labs still do exist.
Due to its addictive properties, crystal meth is considered a Schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The History of Crystal Meth
Crystal meth is a derivative of legal amphetamines, which have been in use since the 1870s. The original amphetamine was invented in Germany with its more potent sister, methamphetamine, debuting in Japan in 1919. It was very popular in World War II to keep troops awake and engaged.
In the 1950s, it became a popular tool for weight loss and depression, paving the way for the more effective antidepressant drugs we know today. It was also popular as a stimulant among young adults, truck drivers and athletes.
In the 1970s, the U.S. government made methamphetamine illegal for virtually all common uses. This drove the meth trade underground, with illicit production resulting in the crystal meth industry.
Since the side effects are similar to cocaine at a fraction of the cost, meth became more popular in rural and low-income areas. It was primarily distributed by motorcycle gangs until Mexican cartels began mass-producing meth.
Types of Meth
Meth comes in a few different forms, but most are more alike than different. What is commonly referred to as crystal meth is available in crystal-like rocks that are intended to be smoked. This is the most common way to ingest meth.
Crystal meth is available in a purer form known as glass. Glass can be heated and injected directly into the veins. It can also be swallowed or snorted.
It is important to note that meth, as a man-made substance generally produced in illicit labs, is essentially a mystery before use. The purity of any particular product is highly questionable, so users don’t know what they’re consuming before it’s too late. Because the chemicals used to make meth are very toxic when ingested normally, a bad batch of meth can be very dangerous.
Every time a user purchases meth, the contents within are essentially a dice roll. Some meth overdoses are related to impure or improperly produced methamphetamines that contain lethal substances.
There’s no such thing as safe meth. Using any kind of crystal meth can be dangerous.
Meth isn’t commonly combined with other drugs but may be occasionally cut with heroin or ingested concurrently with marijuana and alcohol. Some users may combine meth with poppers or whippets to increase the initial rush.
The name “crystal meth” is indicative of what the drug looks like. It’s usually white and odorless but can also come in colors like pale pinks, oranges and greens. The color can be derived from the ingredients used in the production process. Due to its appearance, some of the nicknames for crystal meth include:
In some cases, meth is referred to by its effects. On the street, asking for crank or speed indicates an interest in using meth.
When ingested orally, meth has a bitter taste. However, most users choose to smoke it for the best and fastest high.
The Effects of Meth
Meth provides a euphoric feeling that’s very intense but rather short-lived. An average dose provides a high for around six hours. After consuming meth, most users go through the same stages of impact:
- Rush: This is the initial flood of dopamine after using meth. During this short period, which often lasts five minutes to an hour, pupils dilate, heart rate accelerates and blood pressure rises. This rush period is most intense for those who smoke meth.
- High: The high associated with meth sets in after the initial rush dissipates. This period of time is characterized by a lingering euphoria and often hyperactivity. Those high on meth have a decreased appetite and increased energy. Meth often makes people believe they have unlimited power and can accomplish anything.
- Comedown: After the high wears off, meth users come back to reality. This sensation can be very unpleasant, resulting in extreme fatigue, aches and pains, confusion and anxiety.
The feeling of using meth is highly addictive. Due to the nature of the high caused by meth use, it’s not uncommon for users to binge, taking dose after dose over the course of days until their body physically can’t handle it. As meth users generally can’t sleep while high and don’t eat normally, staying high puts immense pressure on bodily function.
The cycle of lack of sleep for days on end due to meth use is known as tweaking. While tweaking, meth users may become agitated, aggressive or violent. In serious cases, those highly addicted to meth may go a week or longer without sleep. The longer tweaking continues, the worse side effects become.
Short-Term Effects of Meth
The short-term effects of meth use can include:
- Trouble focusing
- Decreased appetite and subsequent weight loss
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased energy
- Skin damage; meth often creates a sensation of bugs on or in the skin, leading to obsessive skin picking
Long-Term Effects of Meth
Due to the nature of meth, long-term use can have serious negative consequences, including:
- Changes in brain structure, including the ability to process dopamine normally
- Psychosis, including anxiety and hallucinations
- Deficits in memory, cognition and motor skills
- Mood problems
- Severe dental problems
- Extreme weight loss and malnourishment
- Aggression and violent urges
Tweaking, in particular, is extremely bad for the body, causing heart and brain damage due to prolonged periods of wakefulness. Some side effects of meth can be reversed, while others are relatively permanent. For example, brain damage caused by tweaking may never reverse.
Meth Addiction and Overdose
Around 1.6 million Americans use crystal meth on a regular basis, with about one million showing signs of a substance use disorder. Use and addiction are most common in low-income or rural areas, with prevalence in the Midwestern United States in the depressed Rust Belt areas. Indiana, Tennessee and Missouri have the highest number of meth laboratory incidences.
Overdoses from meth are less common than opioid overdoses, for example, but it is indeed possible to overdose on meth. Meth is cited in around 13% of total overdose deaths, either used alone or in conjunction with other drugs. In regions where meth is popular, like Oklahoma, it can be the number one drug-related killer.
Crystal meth doesn’t receive the same amount of attention as other drugs, particularly in the midst of the opioid epidemic, but it’s still incredibly dangerous. With the potential for damaging long-term effects as well as overdose, meth should be taken seriously as an addictive substance. If you or someone you love is abusing meth, proper treatment is incredibly important.
FHE Health offers comprehensive addiction resources, including inpatient care and several tiers of outpatient programming. Please contact us today to learn more about treatment for crystal meth use.