• 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.

  • 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.
  • Activity Three


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


    Review with students the function of various brain areas (e.g., amygdala, hippocampus, cerebellum, etc.). Have students break into small groups and assign each group one brain area. Ask the students to discuss how Methamphetamine or other drugs might affect their brain area. Then have students discuss the function of this brain area and how changing it through drug use might change how a person feels, acts, remembers, learns, etc. Have each group present a summary of their discussions to the entire class. For extra credit, have students discuss and present how brain imaging techniques (such as PET, or Positron Emission Tomography) help researchers to examine how drugs act in the brains of living human subjects.

  • 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.

    Methamphetamine is a powerful drug. It acts by changing how the brain works. It also speeds up many functions in the body. Methamphetamine has a chemical structure that is similar to another drug called amphetamine that I explore in my magazine on stimulants. Methamphetamine can cause lots of harmful things, including inability to sleep, paranoia, aggressiveness, and hallucinations. I'll tell you more about these later.

  • 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.

    Your brain is made up of billions of nerve cells (or neurons). Neurons come in all shapes and sizes, but most have three important parts: a cell body that contains the nucleus and directs the activities of the neuron; dendrites, short fibers that receive messages from other neurons and relay them to the cell body; and an axon, a long single fiber that carries messages from the cell body to dendrites of other neurons.

    Axons of one neuron and the dendrites of a neighboring neuron are located very close to each other, but they don't actually touch. Therefore, to communicate with each other they use chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. When one neuron wants to send a message to another neuron it releases a neurotransmitter from its axon into the small space that separates the two neurons. This space is called a synapse. The neurotransmitter crosses the synapse and attaches to specific places on the dendrites of the neighboring neuron called receptors. Once the neurotransmitter has relayed its message, it is either destroyed or taken back up into the first neuron where it is recycled for use again.

    There are many different neurotransmitters, but the one that is most affected by Methamphetamine is dopamine. Dopamine is sometimes called the pleasure neurotransmitter because it helps you feel good from things like playing soccer, eating a big piece of chocolate cake, or riding a roller coaster. When something pleasurable happens, certain axons release lots of dopamine. The dopamine attaches to receptors on dendrites of neighboring neurons and passes on the pleasure message. This process is stopped when dopamine is released from the receptors and pumped back into the neuron that released it where it is stored for later use.

  • The NIDA Blog Team

    People who study the media have found that a lot of what teens see and hear in movies, TV, and music includes messages about substance use. Between 30 percent and 44 percent of the songs in some kinds of music—rap, hip-hop, blues, and country—refer to using alcohol and drugs. And although video games, movies, music, etc., don’t shoulder all the blame for any one person’s behavior, they may impact teens’ choices.

    Take, for example, rock. It’s always had the reputation of being a bad influence on teens. And the heaviest of rock, heavy metal? That’s considered the worst! And Black Sabbath, heavy metal pioneers—they must be the worst of the worst! Right?

    Well, not so fast jumping to conclusions. A recent study by NIDA’s Dr. Kevin Conway, an expert in drug use trends and patterns, with Dr. Patrick McGrain of the Department of Criminal Justice at Gwynedd Mercy University, found that Black Sabbath’s songs don’t necessarily fit the “pro-drug” stereotype.

    “Earlier research suggested that rock and roll music glorified drug use,” said Dr. Conway, “but my own listening to Black Sabbath's songs suggested a more complicated story...To our surprise, the songs tell a cautionary tale about the dangers of drug use and the horrors of drug addiction.”

    A sobering shift

    Diving deep into Black Sabbath’s music, the researchers listened to every song the band recorded in the studio—that’s 156 songs between 1970 and 2013—while also reading the lyrics and coding them according to theme or topic. They found that the songs had four main themes: doom and gloom, love and loss, explicit references to substance use, and implied (suggested but not explicitly stated) references to substance use.

    The first surprise from the study is that just 13 percent of Black Sabbath’s songs mentioned substance use (either explicit/straightforward or implied). An even bigger surprise: the songs that referred to substances were overwhelmingly (60 percent) negative on the subject, and they grew more negative over time.

    While slightly more of the substance-use songs on the first four Black Sabbath albums were positive rather than negative in tone, nine of the last 10 Black Sabbath songs on the subject were negative. This shift mirrors the experience of most people who become addicted to drugs: from initially chasing a high to, ultimately, the misery of having their life ruled (and possibly ruined) by a drug.

    It might not be a coincidence, then, that 95 percent of Black Sabbath’s songs about drug use were written by bassist Geezer Butler and sung by Ozzy Osbourne. Both of them have talked about their personal struggles with drug addiction.

    Rock and regret

    Many of Black Sabbath’s lyrics describe how repeatedly using drugs can hijack a person’s free will, take over their life, and make them miserable in all kinds of ways.

    For example, the song “Killing Yourself to Live” describes a person who continues to use drugs (“Smoke it, get high”) despite terrible consequences: losing their dignity ("Well, people look and people stare / Well, I don't think that I even care"), having a mental breakdown (“I don’t know if I’m up or down / whether black is white or blue is brown / The colors of my life are all different somehow”), and constantly suffering ("You’re only killing yourself to live… / You’ll end up paying ’til your dying day”).

    The song “Methademic” warns of the consequences of using methamphetamine:

    Hallucinating in a chemical hell ain’t my idea of having fun
    Synthetic overload, you’re under its spell
    Your super nightmare’s just begun.

    And “Shock Wave” describes a drug user who discovers that heroin has taken control of his life:

    There’s no reason for you to run
    You can’t escape the fate of the chosen one
    Black moon rising in a blood red sky
    This time you realize that you’re gonna die.

    These lyrics are heavy, for sure (and not the kind of “heavy” that “heavy metal” usually refers to). But they capture the raw horror of addiction.

    This band’s music and the research on it challenge the belief that being “counter-cultural” means glorifying drug and alcohol use. At least for Black Sabbath, the myth of awesome non-stop partying wasn’t as interesting or honest as the reality of drug use and addiction—and that’s the story they told in their songs.

    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.
  • 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.

    "Speed", "meth", "chalk", "cristal", "ice", "glass"—todos son nombres en inglés para la metanfetamina. En español también se la conoce como "meta", "tiza", "hielo", "cristal" y "vidrio". La metanfetamina viene en muchas formas diferentes y se puede inhalar, tragar, inyectar o fumar. La forma que se puede fumar es la que se conoce como "hielo" o "cristal" debido a su apariencia.

    La metanfetamina es una droga poderosa. Actúa cambiando la manera en que funciona el cerebro. También acelera muchas de las funciones del cuerpo. La metanfetamina tiene una estructura química similar a otra droga llamada anfetamina, la cual investigo en mi boletín informativo sobre los estimulantes. La metanfetamina puede causar muchos efectos dañinos como problemas para dormir, paranoia, agresividad y alucinaciones. Después les cuento más sobre estas cosas.

  • 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. Imagine no longer enjoying your favorite food or an afternoon with your friends.

  • Una célula nerviosa

    No importa la manera como se usa, la metanfetamina eventualmente termina en el torrente sanguíneo en donde circula por todo el cerebro. La metanfetamina afecta a muchas de las estructuras del cerebro, pero a las que más afectan son a las que contienen una sustancia química llamada dopamina. Esto se debe a que la forma, tamaño y estructura química de la metanfetamina y los de la dopamina son similares. Antes de contarles más sobre la dopamina y la metanfetamina, es mejor que les explique cómo funcionan las células nerviosas.

    El cerebro está compuesto por miles de millones de células nerviosas llamadas neuronas. Las neuronas vienen en muchas diferentes formas y tamaños, pero la mayoría tienen tres partes importantes: un cuerpo celular, que contiene el núcleo y dirige las actividades de la neurona; las dendritas, que son fibras cortas que reciben los mensajes de otras neuronas y las retransmiten al cuerpo celular; y un axón, que es una fibra larga solitaria que transporta el mensaje del cuerpo celular a las dendritas de otras neuronas.

    Los axones de una neurona y las dendritas de la neurona vecina se encuentran localizados muy cerca el uno del otro, pero no se tocan. Por lo tanto, para comunicarse entre sí utilizan mensajeros químicos conocidos como neurotransmisores. Cuando una neurona desea enviarle un mensaje a otra, libera de su axón un neurotransmisor dentro del pequeño espacio que separa a las dos neuronas. Este espacio se llama sinapsis. El neurotransmisor cruza la sinopsis y se adhiere a lugares específicos de las dendritas de la neurona vecina, que se llaman receptores. Una vez que el neurotransmisor ha retransmitido su mensaje, es destruido o regresa a la neurona inicial que lo recicla para que sea usado de nuevo.

    Hay muchos neurotransmisores diferentes, pero el más afectado por la metanfetamina es la dopamina. La dopamina a veces se llama el neurotransmisor del placer porque te ayuda a sentir satisfacción de cosas como jugar al fútbol, comer un gran pedazo de torta de chocolate o montarte en una montaña rusa. Cuando algo placentero ocurre, ciertos axones liberan una gran cantidad de dopamina. La dopamina se adhiere a los receptores en las dendritas de las neuronas vecinas, pasándoles el mensaje placentero. Este proceso se detiene cuando los receptores sueltan la dopamina, y la neurona que originalmente la liberó la vuelve a capturar y la guarda para usarla de nuevo más adelante.

  • 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. Methamphetamine also causes a person's blood pressure to increase and their heart to beat faster.

  • 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.

    Pero eventualmente estos efectos placenteros se detienen. A menudo son seguidos por sensaciones desagradables, lo que se llama un "crash" o "caída" que a menudo le lleva a la persona a usar más de la droga. Si la persona continúa usando metanfetamina, tendrá dificultad para encontrar placer en cualquier otra cosa. Imagínate que ya no te guste tu comida favorita o pasar la tarde con tus amigos.

  • 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. This damage also continues long after the drug use is stopped.

    These changes in dopamine and serotonin neurons may explain some of the effects of Methamphetamine. If a person uses Methamphetamine for a long time, they may become paranoid. They may also hear and see things that aren't there. These are called hallucinations. Because Methamphetamine causes big increases in blood pressure, someone using it for a long time may also have permanent damage to blood vessels in the brain. This can lead to strokes caused by bleeding in the brain.

  • 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.

    La metanfetamina también puede hacer que aumente la presión arterial y que el corazón lata más rápido.

  • 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.

    Mind Over Matter is produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. These materials are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. Citation of the source is appreciated. NIH Publication No.03-4394. Printed 2000, 2003.

  • perrera

    Para estudiar los cerebros de las personas que usan metanfetamina, los científicos están usando técnicas de imágenes del cerebro, tales como la tomografía de emisión de positrones (conocida como TEP, o también como PET por sus siglas en inglés). Ellos han descubierto que, aún después de tres años de haber dejado de usar la droga, se siguen viendo daños en las neuronas de dopamina de las personas que habían usado metanfetamina por mucho tiempo. Los científicos aún no saben si este daño es permanente, pero esta investigación muestra que los cambios en el cerebro causados por el uso de metanfetamina pueden durar por mucho tiempo. Las investigaciones en animales muestran que la droga también puede dañar las neuronas que contienen serotonina. Este daño también continúa por mucho tiempo después de haber dejado de usar la droga.

    Estos cambios en las neuronas que contienen dopamina y serotonina pueden explicar algunos de los efectos de la metanfetamina. Las personas que usan metanfetamina por mucho tiempo pueden volverse paranoicas. También pueden oír y ver cosas que no están allí, es decir, pueden tener alucinaciones. Ya que la metanfetamina hace que la presión arterial se eleve bastante, las personas que la usan por largo tiempo pueden tener daños permanentes en los vasos sanguíneos en el cerebro. Esto puede causar derrames cerebrales que resultan de un sangrado en el cerebro.

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

    Methamphetamine is an addictive drug that belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants. This class also includes cocaine, caffeine, and other drugs. Methamphetamine is made illegally with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. Many of the ingredients that are used to produce Methamphetamine, such as drain cleaner, battery acid, and antifreeze, are extremely dangerous. The rapid proliferation of "basement" laboratories for the production of Methamphetamine has led to a widespread problem in many communities in the U.S.

    Methamphetamine has many effects in the brain and body. Short-term effects can include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hyperthermia, irritability, tremors, convulsions, and aggressiveness. Hyperthermia and convulsions can result in death. Single doses of Methamphetamine have also been shown to cause damage to nerve terminals in studies with animals. Long-term effects can include addiction, stroke, violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions. Long-term use can also cause damage to dopamine neurons that persists long after the drug has been discontinued.

  • 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.

    Explorando la Mente es una serie producida por el Instituto Nacional sobre el Abuso de Drogas (NIDA, por sus siglas en inglés), parte de los Institutos Nacionales de la Salud. Estos materiales son del dominio público y se pueden reproducir sin permiso. Se agradece citar la fuente.

    Publicación NIH No. 06-4394 (s). Impresa en el 2006.

    Instituto Nacional sobre el Abuso de Drogas
    Institutos Nacionales de la Salud
    Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de los EE.UU.

  • All materials appearing in the ​Research Reports series are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated.

  • 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.

    Methamphetamine is also chemically similar to dopamine and another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. It produces its effects by causing dopamine and norepinephrine to be released into the synapse in several areas of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex, and the striatum, a brain area involved in movement. Specifically, Methamphetamine enters nerve terminals by passing directly through nerve cell membranes. It is also carried into the nerve terminals by transporter molecules that normally carry dopamine or norepinephrine from the synapse back into the nerve terminal. Once in the nerve terminal, Methamphetamine enters dopamine and norepinephrine containing vesicles and causes the release of these neurotransmitters. Enzymes in the cell normally chew up excess dopamine and norepinephrine; however, Methamphetamine blocks this breakdown. The excess neurotransmitters are then carried by transporter molecules out of the neuron and into the synapse. Once in the synapse, the high conce ntration of dopamine causes feelings of pleasure and euphoria. The excess norepinephrine may be responsible for the alertness and anti-fatigue effects of Methamphetamine.

    Methamphetamine can also affect the brain in other ways. For example, it can cause cerebral edema, brain hemorrhage, paranoia, and hallucinations. Some of the effects of Methamphetamine on the brain may be long-lasting and even permanent. Recent research in humans has shown that even three years after chronic Methamphetamine users have discontinued use of the drug there is still a reduction in their ability to transport dopamine back into neurons. This clearly demonstrates that there is a long-lasting impairment in dopamine function as a result of drug use. This is highly significant because dopamine has a major role in many brain functions, including experiences of pleasure, mood, and movement. In these same studies, researchers compared the damage to the dopamine system of Methamphetamine users to that seen in patients with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease is characterized by a progressive loss of dopamine neurons in brain regions that are involved in movement. Although the damage to the do pamine system was greater in the Parkinson's patients, the brains of former Methamphetamine users showed similar patterns to that seen in Parkinson's disease. Scientists now believe that the damage to the dopamine system from longterm Methamphetamine use may lead to symptoms of Parkinson's disease. (It should be noted that Parkinson's disease itself is not caused by drug use.) In support of this, research with laboratory animals has demonstrated that exposure to a single, high dose of Methamphetamine or prolonged exposure at low doses destroys up to fifty 39 percent of the dopamine-producing neurons in certain parts of the brain.

    Methamphetamine also has widespread effects on other parts of the body. It can cause high blood pressure, arrhythmias, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can also increase body temperature, which can be lethal in overdose situations.

    The following activities, when used along with the magazine on Methamphetamine, will help explain to students how this substance changes the brain and the body.

  • 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.
  • Methamphetamine (also called meth, crystal, chalk, and ice, among other terms) is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine. It takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder.

    How Is Methamphetamine Abused?

    Methamphetamine is taken orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate, intense euphoria. Because the pleasure also fades quickly, users often take repeated doses, in a “binge and crash” pattern.

    How Does Methamphetamine Affect the Brain?

    Methamphetamine increases the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to high levels of that chemical in the brain. Dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function. Methamphetamine’s ability to release dopamine rapidly in reward regions of the brain produces the euphoric “rush” or “flash” that many users experience. Repeated methamphetamine use can easily lead to addiction—a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.

    Is Meth a Prescription Drug?

    Methamphetamine can be prescribed by a doctor to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions, although it is rarely used medically, and only at doses much lower than those typically abused. It 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.

    People who use methamphetamine long-term may experience anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and mood disturbances and display violent behavior. They may also show symptoms of psychosis, such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects crawling under the skin).

    Chronic methamphetamine use is accompanied by chemical and molecular changes in the brain. Imaging studies have shown changes in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning. In studies of chronic methamphetamine users, severe structural and functional changes have been found in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in these individuals.

    Some of these brain changes persist long after methamphetamine use is stopped, although some may reverse after being off the drug for a sustained period (e.g., more than 1 year).

    How is Meth Made?

    Most of the methamphetamine abused in the United States is manufactured in “superlabs” here or, more often, in Mexico. But the drug is also easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicines. To curb production of methamphetamine, pharmacies and other retail stores are required by law to keep logs of purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine; individuals may only purchase a limited amount of those products on a single day.

    Methamphetamine production also involves a number of other, very hazardous chemicals. Toxicity from these chemicals can remain in the environment around a methamphetamine production lab long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of health problems for people living in the area.

    What Are the Other Health Effects of Methamphetamine?

    Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same physical effects as those of other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and increased body temperature.

    Long-term methamphetamine use has many negative consequences for physical health, including extreme weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), and skin sores caused by scratching.

    Methamphetamine use also raises the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C. These can be contracted both by sharing contaminated drug injection equipment and through unsafe sex. Regardless of how it is taken, methamphetamine alters judgment and inhibition and can lead people to engage in these and other types of risky behavior.

    Methamphetamine use may also worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Studies indicate that HIV causes more injury to neurons and greater cognitive impairment in individuals who are HIV-positive and use methamphetamine than it does in HIV-positive people who do not use the drug.

    Learn More

    For additional information on methamphetamine, please refer to the following sources on NIDA’s Web site:

  • 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.

    Word Find

    Blank word find

    Word Find Answers

    Word find with answers


    Download this activity as a PDF Methamphetamine Word Find (108 kb) for use in the classroom. You must have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the PDF.

  • Sara Bellum

    November 30 to December 7, 2013 is the first national Meth Awareness Week. Sponsored by our friends at The Partnership at DrugFree.org 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.
  • Activity Two


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


    Review the effects of Methamphetamine on the brain, paying particular attention to its effects on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Have students break into small groups. Ask each group to write and perform a play that demonstrates how Methamphetamine changes the normal functioning of neurons that contain dopamine. Discuss with students how these changes can result in long-term impairment of dopamine function and the implications of this impairment (e.g., inability to feel pleasure, symptoms of Parkinson's Disease).

  • 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 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; 2017 (in percent)*
    Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
    Methamphetamine Lifetime 0.70 0.90 1.10
    Past Year 0.50 0.40 0.60
    Past Month 0.20 0.20 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 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 drug treatment and where you can find it, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help.

    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?