NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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  • 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.

  • Explains to young teens how methamphetamine acts in the body and the brain and what happens with long-term use of the drug.

  • Activity Three


    The student will learn more about how Methamphetamine and other drugs change the way the brain works.

  • Hi, my name's Sara Bellum. Welcome to my magazine series exploring the brain's response to drugs. In this issue, we'll investigate many fascinating facts about the stimulant drug Methamphetamine. Some of this information was only recently discovered by leading scientists.

    Speed, meth, chalk, crystal, ice, glass - these are all names for the drug Methamphetamine. Methamphetamine comes in many different forms and is snorted, swallowed, injected, or smoked. The smokable form is known as "ice" or "crystal," due to its appearance.

  • The NIDA Blog Team

    We’ve described before how using meth can have a lot of really unpleasant effects on the body. One of those effects is “meth mouth,” where a meth user’s teeth become broken, stained, and rotten, and may eventually fall out. If it sounds ugly, just wait until you see some pictures of meth mouth (if you dare—they’re pretty hard to look at).

    Well, the news about meth mouth got even worse recently: Turns out it happens to meth users a lot more often than was previously known.

    Researchers examined 571 meth users and found that:

    • 96 percent of them had cavities (a cavity is a hole or other damage to the outside layers of a tooth—but you probably knew that).
    • Adults who said they used meth “moderately” or “heavily” were twice as likely to have untreated cavities as “light” users—“light” users had used the drug for less than 10 days over the previous month. (If a cavity goes untreated, it grows larger and larger, it can cause a really bad toothache, the cavity can become infected, and the tooth may have to be removed.)
    • 58 percent of the meth users had untreated tooth decay, compared with 27 percent of the general population in the U.S.
    • Only 23 percent kept all of their natural teeth, compared to 48 percent of the general population in the U.S. That’s a lot of additional tooth loss for the people who used meth.
    • A significant number of meth users (40 percent) said they were often self-conscious or embarrassed because of the condition of their teeth or dentures.

    So it looks like the question with meth mouth isn’t really if it will happen to a person who uses meth. The question is more like, how bad will their meth mouth get?

    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.
  • La metanfetamina viene en muchas formas diferentes y se puede inhalar, tragar, inyectar o fumar. La metanfetamina puede causar muchos efectos dañinos como problemas para dormir, paranoia, agresividad y alucinaciones.

  • No matter how Methamphetamine is used, it eventually ends up in the bloodstream where it is circulated throughout the brain. Methamphetamine can affect lots of brain structures, but the ones it affects the most are the ones that contain a chemical called dopamine. The reason for this is that the shape, size, and chemical structure of Methamphetamine and dopamine are similar. Before I tell you more about dopamine and Methamphetamine, I'd better tell you how nerve cells work.

  • Clara Mente explorando en su kayak

    ¡Hola! Me llamo Clara Mente y quiero darles la bienvenida a mi serie de boletines informativos que exploran la respuesta del cerebro a las drogas. En este ejemplar, investigaremos varios datos fascinantes sobre la droga estimulante llamada metanfetamina. Alguna de esta información fue descubierta recientemente por los científicos que lideran la investigación en este campo.

  • Usually neurons recycle dopamine. But Methamphetamine is able to fool neurons into taking it up just like they would dopamine. Once inside a neuron, Methamphetamine causes that neuron to release lots of dopamine. All this dopamine causes the person to feel an extra sense of pleasure that can last all day. But eventually these pleasurable effects stop. They are followed by unpleasant feelings called a "crash" that often lead a person to use more of the drug. If a person continues to use Methamphetamine, they will have a difficult time feeling pleasure from anything.

  • Because it is similar to dopamine, Methamphetamine can change the function of any neuron that contains dopamine. And if this weren't enough, Methamphetamine can also affect neurons that contain two other neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine. All of this means that Methamphetamine can change how lots of things in the brain and the body work. Even small amounts of Methamphetamine can cause a person to be more awake and active, lose their appetite, and become irritable and aggressive.

  • Generalmente las neuronas reciclan la dopamina. Sin embargo, la metanfetamina puede engañar a las neuronas para que la capturen de igual manera que lo harían con la dopamina. Una vez dentro de la neurona, la metanfetamina hace que dicha neurona libere un montón de dopamina. Toda esta dopamina hace que el us uario sienta una sensación de placer mayor que puede durar todo el día.

  • Scientists are using brain imaging techniques, like positron emission tomography (called PET for short), to study the brains of human Methamphetamine users. They have discovered that even three years after long-time Methamphetamine users had quit using the drug, their dopamine neurons were still damaged. Scientists don't know yet whether this damage is permanent, but this research shows that changes in the brain from Methamphetamine use can last a long time. Research with animals has shown that the drug Methamphetamine can also damage neurons that contain serotonin.

  • Ya que es muy parecida a la dopamina, la metanfetamina puede cambiar la función de cualquier neurona que contenga dopamina. Y si eso no fuera poco, la metanfetamina también puede afectar las neuronas que contienen otros dos neurotransmisores: la serotonina y la norepinefrina. Todo esto significa que la metanfetamina puede cambiar cómo funcionan muchas cosas en el cerebro y en el cuerpo. Aún en pequeñas cantidades, la metanfetamina puede hacer que la persona esté más despierta y activa, pierda el apetito o se vuelva irritable y agresiva.

  • Researchers are only beginning to understand how Methamphetamine acts in the brain and body. When they learn more about how Methamphetamine causes its effects, they may be able to develop treatments that prevent or reverse the damage this drug can cause. Maybe someday you'll make the next major breakthrough.

  • For teachers: Background information and classroom activities for use with the Methamphetamine Student Booklet.

  • Clara Mente con su perro

    Los investigadores apenas están comenzando a comprender cómo la metanfetamina actúa sobre el cerebro y el cuerpo. Cuando hayan aprendido más sobre como la metanfetamina produce sus efectos, es posible que puedan desarrollar tratamientos para prevenir o revertir el daño que esta droga puede causar. Tal vez algún día tú serás quien logre el próximo gran descubrimiento.

  • Mechanism of Action

    Methamphetamine dog

    Methamphetamine acts on the pleasure circuit in the brain by altering the levels of certain neurotransmitters present in the synapse. Chemically, Methamphetamine is closely related to amphetamine, but its effects on the central nervous system are greater than those of amphetamine.

  • Sara Bellum

    Few SBB posts have gotten as many grossed-out reactions from readers as this one from January 2010—check out what meth does to your body and let us know in comments what you think.

    SBB has already told you about some of the nasty effects that methamphetamine can have on the body—remember that post about how scavengers won’t even eat the dead bodies of meth users?

    Not only can meth mess up your body’s chemical structure and even cause problems with your heart and lungs, it also changes your appearance and behavior. Soon, meth users might not even look or act like themselves.

    Bad news for teeth and skin. Ever heard of “meth mouth?” It isn’t pretty. Meth reduces the amount of protective saliva around the teeth. People who use the drug also tend to drink a lot of sugary soda, neglect personal hygiene, grind their teeth, and clench their jaws. The teeth of meth users can eventually fall out—even when doing something as normal as chewing a sandwich. As if that’s not bad enough, meth can also cause skin problems—and we’re not just talking about regular zits.

    Take a look at these pictures from the U.S. Department of Justice—but beware, they are disturbing!

    Meth users’ skin can start to look like this because they frequently hallucinate—or strongly imagine—that they’ve got insects creeping on top of or underneath their skin. The person will pick or scratch, trying to get rid of the imaginary “crank bugs.” Soon, the face and arms are covered with open sores that could get infected.

    No peace of mind. In addition to the “crank bug” hallucinations, long-term meth use leads to problems such as irritability, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness, confusion, aggressive feelings, violent rages, and depression.

    Users may become psychotic and experience paranoia, mood disturbances, and delusions. The paranoia may even make the person think about killing themselves or someone else.

    For more information about how methamphetamine could harm your body and mind, read more indepth information on NIDA DrugFacts.

    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.
  • Provides an overview of the latest scientific findings on methamphetamine, including short- and long-term health consequences, effects on pregnancy, and potential prevention and treatment options.

  • Activity One


    The student will become more familiar with the neuroscience concepts and terminology associated with the effects of Methamphetamine on the brain and body.


    The students will complete the Methamphetamine Word Search (below). The teacher will then review the words and have the students discuss how the terms relate to Methamphetamine abuse. A copy of the Word Search and Word Search Solution is included in the guide.

  • Sara Bellum

    November 30 to December 7, 2013 is the first national Meth Awareness Week. Sponsored by our friends at The Partnership at and coordinated by the Meth Project, this event aims to increase awareness of the devastating effects of using methamphetamine.

    Methamphetamine, or meth, is a manmade stimulant that is sometimes made in basement labs from the cold medicine pseudoephedrine and various toxic chemicals like drain cleaner, battery acid, and antifreeze. Meth makes a person more awake and physically active, causes rapid heart rate, and increases blood pressure and body temperature. Repeated use causes your teeth to fall out and makes you pick at your skin until you have open sores.

    Meth is nasty stuff, and teens get that. Only 1% of teens (8th, 10th, and 12th graders) used meth in 2012—reflecting a steady decline since 1999. The number of adults using meth dropped too: About 133,000 people tried meth in 2012, down more than 50% from 2002 to 2004.

    This is all good news, but we still have work to do to prevent meth use. Meth is becoming more available, more pure (making it more dangerous), and less expensive to buy. The U.S. Department of Justice considers meth use a threat to this country because of how destructive it is.

    To see just how destructive meth is, check out the Meth Project’s Facebook page for disturbing stories from people addicted to meth, as well as from their friends and family members. While some might consider such stories scare tactics (something SBB tries to avoid), they definitely show how awful meth can be.

    Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.
  • Provides facts about the stimulant drug methamphetamine, including how it affects the brain, other adverse health effects, and trends and data on its use among youth.

  • Activity Two


    The student will become familiar with how Methamphetamine changes brain functioning and the potential long-term implications of these changes.

  • 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; 2015 (in percent)*
    Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
    Methamphetamine Lifetime 0.80 1.30 1.00
    Past Year 0.50 0.80 0.60
    Past Month 0.30 0.30 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.

  • For More Information on Methamphetamine (Meth)