Methamphetamine (Meth)

Street names: Crank, Crystal, Speed

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, and use can lead to addiction.

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. Meth is made in the United States and often in Mexico—in "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 doctors in limited doses in rare cases for certain medical conditions.

How Methampetamine is 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.

What happens to your brain when you use methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine causes a quick release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, producing feelings of extreme pleasure, sometimes referred to as a “rush” or “flash.” It is important to note that when you do fun drug-free things like listen to music, play video games, or eat tasty food, the brain naturally releases small amounts of dopamine, making you feel pleasure. But meth floods the brain with dopamine, depleting its supply. So, once the effects have warn off, the brain will no longer send the small amounts of this pleasure producing chemical to the brain when you do ordinary activities, and that can lead to depression.  

Regular use of methamphetamine causes chemical and molecular changes in the brain, sometimes for a long time. The activity of the dopamine system changes, causing problems with feeling pleasure, movement, and thinking. 

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

What happens to your body when you use 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

Long Term Effects

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 overdose or 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. The number of deaths caused by methamphetamine is not known, because those statistics are not tracked at the national level. 

Is methamphetamine addictive?

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 try to quit using methamphetamine might experience very uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal, including:

  • get really tired but have trouble sleeping
  • feel angry or nervous
  • feel depressed
  • feel a very strong craving to use methamphetamine

How many teens use methamphetamine?

Below is a chart showing the percentage of teens who use methamphetamine for non-medical reasons. 

Swipe left or right to scroll.

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Methamphetamine for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2016 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Methamphetamine Lifetime 0.60 [0.70] 1.20
Past Year 0.40 [0.40] 0.60
Past Month 0.30 0.20 0.30

* Data in brackets indicate statistically significant change from the previous year.

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 see or hear about someone misusing steroids, talk to a coach, teather, or other trusted adult. 

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.

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Monitoring the Future 2015 Survey Results

Published: December 16, 2015
NIH’s 2015 Monitoring the Future survey shows long term decline in illicit drug use, prescription opioid abuse, cigarette and alcohol use among the nation’s youth.