NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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  • 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)?

    Methamphetamine

    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 increases the amount 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.

    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.

    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?

    Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Methamphetamine for 8th-Graders, 10th-Graders, and 12th-Graders; 2013 (in percent)
    Drug Time Period 8th-Graders 10th-Graders 12th-Graders
    Methamphetamine Lifetime 1.40 1.60 1.50
      Past Year 1.00 1.00 0.90
      Past Month 0.40 0.40 0.40

    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.