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What is Methamphetamine?
Medical Aspects of Methamphetamine Abuse
Open Sores 
Burns
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What is Methamphetamine?

Jim Gerhardt of the HIDA Task Force says Methamphetamine "is like a virus infecting us right now"

The Highs and Health Hazards for the User

Meth is a powerfully intense stimulant that creates a euphoric and energetic feeling. It releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which stimulates brain cells, enhancing mood and body movement. A cocaine high lasts about 15-20 minutes, while a meth high lasts 2-14 hours. On the street it is known as crank, speed, crystal or ice. It can be a whitish or pale yellow crystal-like powder that can be chewed, ingested, injected, snorted or smoked.

Meth is highly addictive, personality altering and can cause violent, bizarre behavior. Other effects on the central nervous system include irritability, insomnia, confusion and paranoia. Meth robs the body of calcium and appears to have a neurotoxic effect, damaging brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, another neurotransmitter. Over time meth appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson's disease and type-two schizophrenia. Meth causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes. Other effects of meth include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat and extreme anorexia. Its use can result in cardiovascular collapse and death. Exerpt from NMTF Article: WASTED Toxins from Meth Labs Endanger Communities.

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Medical Aspects of Methamphetamine Abuse

Author: Dr. Kathryn Wells

Methamphetamine use is rising rapidly throughout the United States. The use of this drug began most heavily on the West Coast but then spread to the Midwest and is now moving to encompass the entire country. Understanding the medical and psychological effects of this drug is important in order to recognize drug use and render appropriate medical care.

Methamphetamine has many names on the street such as "speed", "ice", "meth", "crystal" and "crank". Much of the explosive rise in the use of this drug is due to the simplicity of its synthesis in clandestine labs using inexpensive readily available ingredients. This drug is readily obtainable on the street and is often sold through networks. Abusers of methamphetamine range widely in age, educational level, socioeconomic status, and economic background. This drug has become the growing illicit drug of choice among young women because it is affordable, readily available, is an effective appetite suppressant, libido increaser, energy enhancer and mood elevator.

Although methamphetamine causes behavioral and psychological effects similar to those seen with cocaine use, it is quite different in many ways including structurally. Methamphetamine is man-made unlike cocaine, which is plant-derived. Methamphetamine is typically used on a daily basis, while cocaine is more frequently used recreationally. Finally, the high from methamphetamine lasts 8 - 24 hours, unlike the high from cocaine, which lasts only 20 - 30 minutes.

The major difference between cocaine and methamphetamine is how the drugs work at the level of the nerve cell. Both drugs result in an accumulation of dopamine (and serotonin) in the pleasure areas of the brain - excessive dopamine produces the euphoria and stimulation that the user is trying to achieve. Methamphetamine, however, not only blocks the feedback mechanism of the nerve cells (the transporter - which normally takes the chemical back up and saves it), but also reverses that transporter pushing the dopamine out faster. The dopamine stores eventually become depleted, as the nerve cells cannot keep up with the amount of dopamine released and not returned to the cells. Damage to the nerve cells themselves has also been documented.

The desired effects of methamphetamine use are directly related to the dopamine and serotonin released. Dopamine release causes euphoria (feeling of well-being), excitation, intensification of emotions, unusual motor movements, elevation of self-esteem, increased alertness and aggression, decreased appetite and elevation of libido (sexual appetite). Elevated levels of serotonin result in increased feelings of empathy and closeness as well as a generalized state of well being. The undesired effects of serotonin include bruxism, bizarre mood changes, psychotic behavior and aggressiveness.

Many different routes of administration are used to take methamphetamine and it is typically used in a cycle. The drug may be snorted, smoked, orally ingested, or injected. The user's mood is altered differently depending on the route used for ingestion. There is reportedly a "flash" or a "rush" that has been described as "extremely pleasurable" immediately after the drug is injected or smoked. This rush is then followed (in essentially all methods of use) by feelings of euphoria or extreme well-being. The drug is commonly used in a "binge and crash" pattern. The user will repeatedly use the drug (binge) until they ultimately "crash". Tolerance to the pleasurable effects of the drug occurs within minutes but before the blood concentrations fall. Therefore the user will continue to use ("tweaking") in order to try to recreate the pleasure high as a part of the binge cycle. This is the part of the cycle that is the most physiologically dangerous to the user as well as creates the greatest potential for violence. Once the user finally "crashes" they are frequently unarousable for many hours do to extreme depletion of endogenous neurotransmitters.

The individual who is using methamphetamine frequently displays several clinical symptoms, many of which are directly related to the stimulant effects of the drug. Methamphetamine use causes dilated pupils, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure, tachycardia (high heart rate), decreased oxygen delivery to the extremities resulting in poor circulation (which contributes to skin lesions), dental decay, increased temperature of major organ systems, decreased appetite (therefore, weight loss), and increased libido. Muscle, kidney and liver damage can occur as a result of elevated body temperature and there is also an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes because of vessel constriction and increased platelet aggregation.

Methamphetamine is a very addictive drug and leads to a chronic, relapsing disease. Addiction is characterized by compulsive, drug-seeking behavior and drug use. There are features of both physical and psychological addiction displayed by methamphetamine users. The addiction seen with this drug is believed to be related, at least in part, to the functional and molecular changes that are known to occur in the brain. There is also a stronger potential for addiction when the more rapid-acting routes of administration are used.

Methamphetamine users often display multiple behavior changes. These individuals are frequently violent, bizarre acting, excessively anxious, confused and unable to sleep. Psychotic features are very common as an effect of this drug as well. These individuals can show paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, delusions, homicidal thoughts, suicidal thoughts, and out of control rages. These behavioral changes can persist for years after drug use is discontinued. An acute methamphetamine psychosis has been described in the medical literature. This is characterized by extreme paranoia, well-formed delusions, hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli, stereotyped "tweaking" behavior, panic, extreme fearfulness, and a high potential for violence.

Heightened sexuality is described in methamphetamine user and is frequently a desired effect of the drug. Because of this, the users often participate in bizarre sexual activity beyond their norms, and may participate in sexual acts in view of their children. They also commonly participate in frequent, unprotected sexual activity which results in many pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and hepatitis. There is almost always some form of pornography found in the homes of users. Children living in these homes are at increased risk of sexual abuse from witnessing sexually explicit activity, exposure to pornography, or being targets of the activity themselves.

The medical complications of methamphetamine use are multiple and involve almost every major organ system. They are largely related to blood vessel constriction caused by the methamphetamine. This drug can effect the cardiovascular system and potential complications include rapid heart rate, irregular heart rate, increased blood pressure, heart attacks (due to constriction of the blood vessels to the heart), inflammation of the heart muscle, inflammation of the lining of the heart, and damage to blood vessels anywhere in the body. The central nervous system complications may include neuron loss and damage, seizures, chronic psychosis, movement disorders, strokes, and spontaneous brain bleeds. The lungs can be affected as well because methamphetamine use can cause pulmonary edema (excess fluid on the lungs), constriction of the blood vessels in the lungs affecting oxygen exchange, and chronic lung disease. Several other major organ systems can be affected including the kidneys, liver, muscles, and gastrointestinal system. Agitated delirium with sudden cardiac death has also been linked to methamphetamine abuse.

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Open Sores

All Meth users suffer from what they call "Crank Bugs". Meth is manufactured with chemicals that are toxic to the human body, and once the drug is taken the chemicals remain. The body's natural reaction is to try and eliminate the toxins. Users itch and scratch which causes the open sores.

Image of a young meth user's face with open sores on her mouth and forehead Image of a side shot of a mans face with open sores around his jawline Image of a young meth users face and chest with open sores
Image of a mans arms with open sores Image of a mans hands with open sores Image of a closeup view of the open sores

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Burns

Unreported fires resulting in serious burns are very common during the production of methamphetamine. Its been reported that some individuals having 3rd degree burns and never sought medical treatment.

Image of an individual with scars on the stomach from a very serious burn. Image of a scar resulting from a burn.

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Video Clips

Meth Madness Report - Fox 31 News (Requires Windows Media Player) 56k Modem , 100k ISDN/DSL, or 256k DSL/Cable.
 

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Links

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