Methamphetamine—meth for short—is a stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamines. Stimulants are a class of drugs that can boost mood, increase feelings of well-being, and increase energy and alertness—but they also have dangerous effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure.
Meth is a white, bitter powder and easily dissolves in water or alcohol. Sometimes it's made into a white pill or a shiny, white or clear rock called a crystal. Although most of the meth used in the United States comes from “superlabs”—big illegal laboratories that make meth in large quantities—it is also made in small laboratories using inexpensive, over-the-counter and often toxic ingredients like drain cleaner, battery acid, and antifreeze.
Methamphetamine is commonly known as “speed,” “meth,” “chalk,” and “tina.” In its smokeable form, it’s often called “ice,” “crystal,” “crank,” “glass,” “fire,” and “go fast.”
Meth is swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked. “Crystal meth,” a smokeable form of methamphetamine, is a large, usually clear crystal that is smoked in a glass pipe.
According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future study, a NIDA funded survey of teens in grades 8, 10, and 12, 1.0% of 8th graders and 10th graders, and 1.1% of 12th graders had abused meth at least once in the past year.
Meth makes a person more awake and physically active, causes rapid heart rate and irregular heartbeat, and increases blood pressure and body temperature. It can overheat you so much that you pass out; sometimes this can even be fatal.
People who inject meth risk getting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis (a liver disease) if they share used needles. People also can get HIV by having unsafe sex. They may forget to use condoms because they're high on meth.
Repeated use of meth can cause violent behavior, mood swings, and psychosis. Psychosis can include paranoia, hearing sounds that aren’t there, and delusions (e.g., the sensation of insects creeping on the skin). The paranoia can result in homicidal and suicidal thoughts.
Meth can increase a person’s sex drive and is linked to risky sexual behaviors and the transmission of infectious diseases, such as HIV. However, research also indicates that long-term meth use may be associated with decreased sexual function, at least in men.
Over time, meth use may also cause:
- Skin sores: Meth can make users feel like bugs are crawling on or under their skin (“crank bugs”), making them scratch a lot and causing sores on the face and arms.
- Severe weight loss: Meth users burn a lot of energy and don't eat well, which can make them lose a lot of weight and look sick.
- “Meth mouth”: Meth users' teeth become broken, stained, and rotten. Meth users often drink lots of sweet things, grind their teeth, and have dry mouths.
- Aging: Because of the weight loss, skin problems, and tooth problems, people who use meth start looking a lot older than they really are. Their hands or body might shake. Their skin looks dull and has sores and pimples that don't heal. Their mouth looks sunken as their teeth go bad.
- Problems with thinking, emotion, and memory: Meth changes brain circuits needed for learning and remembering things, and it can alter a person’s emotions and how they see the world. For instance, a person who is using meth might feel, hear, or see things that aren't there. They might think that people are out to get them, or start believing strange ideas that can't really be true. These effects can last for a long time even after a person quits using the drug.
Yes. Meth use can quickly lead to addiction. For one thing, it causes tolerance: People who get addicted to meth start needing to take more of it to get the same high. People who usually eat or snort meth might start to smoke or inject it to get a stronger, quicker high.
People who are trying to quit taking meth might:
- Get really tired but have trouble sleeping.
- Feel angry or nervous.
- Be unable to feel happy.
- Feel a very strong need to take meth.
Meth can give people an excess of energy. They might talk and move around a lot. They might not stop to eat or sleep.
Meth users often scratch their skin, causing sores. They might have burns on their lips or fingers from using a hot pipe.
Meth can cause rapid mood swings. For example, people might seem excited, and then become angry and violent. They might act afraid that someone's out to get them. They might want to kill themselves.
Possibly. Scientists are now studying the effects of meth use during pregnancy. So far, they think that meth may affect how a fetus grows and may cause movement problems in infants.
When someone has a drug problem, it's not always easy to know what to do. If someone you know is abusing meth, encourage him or her to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult. There are also anonymous resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) is a crisis hotline that can help with a lot of issues, not just suicide. For example, anyone who feels sad, hopeless, or suicidal; family and friends who are concerned about a loved one; or anyone interested in mental health treatment referrals can call this Lifeline. Callers are connected with a professional nearby who will talk with them about what they’re feeling or about concerns for family and friends.
In addition, the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP)—offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—refers callers to treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations that can provide help for their specific need. You can also locate treatment centers in your state by going to www.samhsa.gov/treatment.