NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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  • The NIDA Blog Team

    Not many people would say with a straight face that drugs like heroin or methamphetamine are good for you, let alone they could help you be more successful in life. But there are lots of people who think marijuana is different from other drugs. For example, we’ve already talked in this blog about the idea that it may have medical uses. The jury is still out.

    Some users even say marijuana’s mind-altering effect—the “high”—is also beneficial. They claim using the drug chills them out, expands their mind, and makes them more creative. Since the 1960s, marijuana has had a mystique as an aid to the artistic life.

    What does science say?

    Many studies over the years have found that marijuana indeed makes users perceive themselves as having more creative thoughts and ideas—which would help explain why so many artists and musicians tout its benefits.

    But perception isn’t always the same as reality—and we know that marijuana alters perceptions. In fact, the research on cannabis and creativity suggests that even if users feel more creative, it’s actually an illusion. People may even be less creative after using it.

    For example, a new study of almost 60 cannabis users in The Netherlands looked at the effects of the drug on a measure of creativity called divergent thinking—which means the ability to brainstorm, think flexibly, and come up with original solutions to problems. After inhaling a high or low dose of vaporized cannabis or a vapor with the same odor and taste but no THC (the chemical that causes the high), the participants took a test that asked them to come up with as many creative uses for two common items (like a pen or a shoe) as they could.

    The results surprised even the researchers: Low doses of cannabis did not have any effect on the participants’ ability to think creatively, compared to not taking cannabis. And high doses actually lowered their creativity—by a lot.

    It seems that feeling creative and being creative really aren’t the same thing.

    Yet it is also true that your expectations about a drug do matter. Different studies have shown that people who are unknowingly given a placebo instead of a drug (or alcohol) will act or perform in ways that correspond to how they expect the drug to affect them.

    Marijuana on Your Mind

    One study, for example, found that regular marijuana users who ate biscuits containing marijuana were less creative than a control group who didn’t eat any biscuits, and that both of those groups were less creative than a group who ate biscuits they thought contained marijuana but were actually a placebo.

    It goes to show that your mind, including your beliefs about drugs, have a lot more power than you think. You don’t have to take the drug to get the effect you expect—in fact it works best if you don’t!

    What do you think? Do you know people who take marijuana (or other drugs) to help them be more creative? Do you think it helps or hurts them? Let us know in comments.

  • Methamphetamine

    Sara Bellum

    Methamphetamine comes in many different forms and is snorted, swallowed, injected, or smoked. Methamphetamine can cause lots of harmful things, including inability to sleep, paranoia, aggressiveness, and hallucinations.

  • What Is Methamphetamine (Meth)?


    Also known as: “Meth,” “Speed,” “chalk,” and “tina”; or for crystal meth, “ice,” “crank,” “glass,” “fire,” and “go fast”

    Methamphetamine—known as “meth”—is a very addictive stimulant drug. Stimulants are a class of drugs that can boost mood, increase feelings of well-being, increase energy, and make you more alert—but they also have dangerous effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure.

    Methamphetamine is a manmade, white, bitter-tasting powder. Sometimes it's made into a white pill or a shiny, white or clear rock called a crystal. Most of the meth used in the United States comes from “superlabs”—big illegal laboratories that make the drug in large quantities. But it is also made in small labs using cheap, over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, which is common in cold medicines. Other chemicals, some of them toxic, are also involved in making methamphetamine.

    Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. It is prescribed by a doctor in rare cases to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions. In these cases, the dose is much lower than what is typically used for the purpose of getting high.

  • How Is Methamphetamine Used?

    Methamphetamine is swallowed, snorted, injected with a needle, or smoked. “Crystal meth” is a large, usually clear crystal that is smoked in a glass pipe. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate and intense high. Because the feeling doesn’t last long, users often take the drug repeatedly, in a “binge and crash” pattern.

  • How Does Methamphetamine Affect the Brain?

    Methamphetamine causes a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The release of small amounts of dopamine makes a person feel pleasure when they do things like listen to music, play video games, or eat tasty food. Methamphetamine’s ability to release dopamine very quickly in the brain produces the feelings of extreme pleasure, sometimes referred to as a “rush” or “flash,” that many users experience. After the effects have worn off, the brain has less dopamine, which can lead to depression.

    Regular use of methamphetamine causes chemical and molecular changes in the brain. The activity of the dopamine system changes, causing problems with movement and thinking. Some of these changes remain long after methamphetamine use has stopped. Although, some may reverse after a person is off the drug for a long period of time, perhaps more than a year, methamphetamine may destroy nerve cells that produce dopamine and another neurotransmitter called serotonin.

    Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.

  • What Are the Other Effects of Methamphetamine?

    The release of dopamine in the brain causes several physical effects, similar to those of other stimulants like cocaine. These include:

    • Feeling very awake and active
    • Fast heart rate and irregular heartbeat
    • Higher blood pressure
    • Higher body temperature
    • Increased risk for HIV/AIDS or hepatitis (a liver disease) from unsafe sex and shared needles

    Effects of Long-Term Use

    Continued methamphetamine use may cause effects that last for a long time, even after a person quits using the drug. These effects include:

    • Anxiety and confusion
    • Problems sleeping
    • Mood swings
    • Violent behavior
    • Psychosis (hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there)
    • Skin sores caused by scratching
    • Severe weight loss
    • Severe dental problems, known as “meth mouth”
    • Problems with thinking, emotion, and memory
  • Can You Get Addicted to Methamphetamine?

    Yes. Methamphetamine use can quickly lead to addiction. That’s when a person seeks out the drug over and over, even after they want to stop and even after it has caused damage to their health and other parts of their life.

    Methamphetamine causes tolerance—when a person needs 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 using methamphetamine might:

    • Get really tired but have trouble sleeping.
    • Feel angry or nervous.
    • Feel depressed.
    • Feel a very strong craving to use methamphetamine.
  • Can You Die If You Use Methamphetamine?

    Yes, it is possible. Methamphetamine can raise your body temperature so much that you pass out. If not treated right away, this can cause death. Death can also occur from heart attack or stroke caused by the drug’s effects on the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which raises heart beat and blood pressure and constricts blood vessels.

  • How Many Teens Use Methamphetamine?

    Swipe left or right to scroll.

    Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Methamphetamine for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2014 (in percent)*
    Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
    Methamphetamine Lifetime 1.00 1.40 1.90
    Past Year 0.60 0.80 1.00
    Past Month 0.20 0.30 0.50

    For more statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.

  • What Should I Do If Someone I Know Needs Help?

    If you or a friend are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, please call:

    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by).

    If you need information on treatment and where you can find it, you can call:

    For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.

  • For More Information on Methamphetamine (Meth)