Methamphetamine (Meth)

Street names: Crank, Crystal, Speed

Revised March 2019

What is methamphetamine (meth)?

Crystal MethamphetaminePhoto by DEA Crystal Methamphetamine

Also known as: Chalk, Meth, Speed, and Tina; or, for crystal meth, Crank, Fire, Glass, Go fast, and Ice

Methamphetamine—known as “meth”— is a laboratory-made, 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 a common ingredient in cold medicines. Drug stores often put these products behind the counter so people cannot use them to create meth in home labs. Other chemicals, some of them toxic, are also involved in making methamphetamine. Meth is sometimes pressed into little pills that look like Ecstasy to make it more appealing to young people.

Methamphetamine is a 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’s pleasurable effects can disappear even before the drug levels fall in the blood, leading people to use more and more, sometimes not sleeping and using the drug for several days.

Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and is legally 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 Methamphetamine Is Used

Methamphetamine is:

  • swallowed
  • snorted
  • injected with a needle
  • 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?

All drugs change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters, telling us how to act and behave. These neurotransmitters attach to molecules on neurons called receptors. (Learn more about how neurotransmitters work.)

There are many neurotransmitters, but dopamine is the one that reinforces cravings for pleasurable behaviors,  like eating a piece of chocolate cake or playing a video game. With repeated use, stimulants like methamphetamine can disrupt how the brain’s dopamine system works, reducing a person’s ability to feel pleasure from normal, everyday activities. People will often develop tolerance, which means they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect. If a person becomes addicted, they might take the drug just to feel “normal.”

After the "high" of methamphetamine wears off, many people experience a "crash" and feel tired or sad for days. They also experience a strong craving to take methamphetamine again to try to feel better.

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

What happens to your body when you use methamphetamine?

Short-Term Effects

The short-term effects of methamphetamine include:

  • feeling very awake and active
  • lack of appetite
  • 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
  • increased attention
  • euphoria, or a “high”

Methamphetamine can be even more harmful when mixed with alcohol.   

Long-Term Effects

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

meth mouthCourtesy of the American Dental Association
  • addiction
  • extreme weight loss
  • anxiety and confusion
  • problems sleeping
  • mood swings
  • severe dental problems, known as “meth mouth”
  • violent behavior
  • psychosis (hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there)
  • skin sores caused by scratching
  • problems with thinking, emotion, and memory
  • paranoia—unreasonable distrust of others

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 because the drug raises your heart beat and blood pressure, and constricts blood vessels. Nationwide, overdose deaths from the category of drugs that includes methamphetamine increased by 7.5 times between 2007 and 2017.1 In recent years, drug dealers have been secretly adding the deadly opioid fentanyl to methamphetamine, because it is cheaper to make. It is estimated that half of the deaths from meth use also involved a dangerous opioid like fentanyl.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Causes of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2018. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.

Is methamphetamine addictive?

Yes. Methamphetamine use can quickly lead to addiction. That’s when people seek 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. They might:

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

Are meth labs really dangerous?

Yes. Meth is made from easily obtained hazardous chemicals, such as acetone, anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer), ether, red phosphorus, and lithium. Toxicity from these chemicals can cause explosions if not used properly and can remain in the lab long after it has been shut down, causing a wide range of damaging effects to health. Because of these dangers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided guidance on cleanup of methamphetamine labs.

How many teens use methamphetamine?

More than 99 percent of teens have never used methamphetamine. Below is a chart showing the percentage of teens who have tried it:  

Swipe left or right to scroll.

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Methamphetamine for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2018 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Methamphetamine Lifetime 0.70 0.80 0.70
Past Year 0.40 0.40 0.50
Past Month 0.10 0.10 0.30

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: 

  • Call the 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 want to help a friend, you can:

If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.

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

Where can I get more information?

Drug Facts

NIDA:

Other Resources:

Statistics and Trends

NIDA Resources:   

Educator Resources:   

Blog Posts

Chat Day Transcripts

Infographics

See text description below

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.
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