Top 5 Dangers of Crystal Meth Addiction

Crystal meth is an extremely powerful and dangerous drug. Meth is also capable of many drug interactions which can increase the risk of negative side effects and even death. Additionally, there are a variety of health complications associated with meth use. Below we have detailed the 5 greatest risks that are presented by prolonged meth use.

Danger #1: Meth Overdoses

Meth overdoses are unfortunately very common, as meth is much more potent than other psychostimulants. According to the CDC, in 2017 there were 9,356 meth overdose deaths. This is 13.3% of ALL drug overdoses that occurred in 2017. Also, according to the DEA, the amounts of meth entering the US have been steadily increasing since 2011.

Danger #2: Cutting Agents/Catalysts

Meth is typically rendered in crystalline form as a hydrochloride salt and can be crushed down to a powder. There are currently FDA recognized legitimate uses for meth in the form of Desoxyn for treatment of narcolepsy, ADHD, and obesity. This medication is rarely used these days as much safer drugs and treatments for these conditions have been developed which pose less of a risk for abuse. The vast majority (more than 99%) of meth today is illicitly produced in independent, gang, or cartel run facilities. Meth produced in the US is typically derived from over-the-counter medications for asthma, cold, or sinus issues such as those containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, however, most meth illicitly sold in the US today is produced at cartel facilities in Mexico and smuggled across the border.

Due to this illicit manufacture, meth can contain many different types of dangerous adulterants or cutting agents. Even “unadulterated” meth requires an array of volatile chemicals to produce. The ingredients and processes needed to make meth are not necessarily complicated, but they can be very dangerous to someone who is unfamiliar with working with highly volatile chemicals. There are many different ways to make meth and depending on the process involved, some of the reagents or catalysts used to refine the pseudo/ephedrine into meth can include:

  • Acetone: A common industrial solvent and commonly found in paint thinner and nail polish remover. Highly flammable and highly toxic.
  • Ammonia Anhydrous: Powerful cleaner used in household and industrial applications. Can react violently with certain metals and halogens and will corrode some rubbers and plastics. Highly toxic, flammable, and environmentally hazardous.
  • Ethyl Ether: Used as an inhaled anesthetic, a refrigerant, and a solvent. Very flammable and an irritant.
  • Iodine: Necessary compound for healthy thyroid function and mental development.
  • Lithium: While used medicinally as a mood stabilizer, raw lithium metals and ions are used in battery and capacitor production. Can react violently with water. Highly flammable and corrosive.
  • Red Phosphorous: Also known as phosphine, it is used as a pesticide as well as in the manufacture of semiconductors, flame retardants, and incendiary weaponry for military applications. Highly flammable, highly toxic, very corrosive, and environmentally hazardous.
  • Sodium: Used in metallurgy and industrial chemical applications as well as sodium vapor use in street lights. Reacts violently with water or moisture in the air. Highly toxic, flammable, and environmentally hazardous.
  • Sodium Hydroxide: Also known as caustic soda, it is the main ingredient in lye and drain or oven cleaner. Used in electroplating, explosives manufacturing, and petroleum products. Highly corrosive and environmentally hazardous.

Depending on the process used, there can be a very wide range of different chemicals used in the production of meth. These are required for pseudo/ephedrine synthesis or reduction and depending on the quality of production, may or may not make it into the finished product. This is a byproduct of the manufacturing process and as such can not truly be considered an adulterant or cutting agent, even though the presence of these chemicals is unwanted. Cutting agents are used by some manufacturers, but more commonly by distributors, traffickers, and dealers as they can cheaply “increase” the amount of meth they have by mixing in cheaper additives.

Some of the more common additives used may include:

  • Caffeine: Active stimulant in coffee. Found in many different foods and drink items and safe when used normally.
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): Sulfur compound which is found in many plants, food, and drinks. It is fairly inert chemically and is sold as dietary supplements.
  • Niacinamide: A type of Vitamin B3, it is found in many foods and drinks.
  • Ketamine: A strong dissociative anesthetic used in human and veterinary medicine.
  • Isopropylbenzylamine: A compound used as a reagent in organic chemistry, it has a very similar chemical structure to meth. This means that it looks, weighs, feels, and behaves the same way when exposed to heat, making it an effective cutting agent.
  • Fentanyl: A very powerful synthetic opioid painkiller more commonly found as an adulterant in heroin. Beginning in 2016, the DEA has been finding it more and more frequently as a meth cutting agent and this trend has only increased throughout 2020.

When other powerful drugs are used as a cutting agent, the risks to the user escalate drastically. In particular, fentanyl and ketamine are very dangerous on their own, and when mixed with meth, the effects can be extremely dangerous and very unpredictable.

Danger #3: Deadly Drug Interactions

Since meth is so potent and neurologically active, it is capable of interacting with many other drugs. Some of the most reactive medications are antidepressants including SSRIs, SNRIs, SNDRIs, as well as many other drugs and compounds. Be sure to talk to your doctor about potential interactions, but just a few specific drugs or compounds with which serious interactions are known to include:

  • Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
  • Prozac (Fluoxetine)
  • Wellbutrin (Bupropion)
  • Regimex (Benzphetamine)
  • Celexa (Citalopram)
  • Cocaine (Benzoylmethylecgonine) – Surprisingly, cocaine is still sometimes used in legitimate medicine today (2020).
  • Pristiq (Desvenlafaxine)
  • Redux (Dexfenfluramine)
  • Tenuate (Diethylpropion)
  • Lexapro (Escitalopram)
  • Spravato (Esketamine)
  • Fen-Phen (Fenfluramine)
  • Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
  • Azedra (Iobenguane I 131)
  • Omnipaque (Iohexol)
  • Isovue-M (Iopamidol)
  • Marplan (Isocarboxazid)
  • Fetzima (Levomilnacipran)
  • Zyvox (Linezolid)
  • Belviq (Lorcaserin)
  • Sanorex (Mazindol)
  • ProvayBlue (Methylene Blue)
  • Amipaque (Metrizamide)
  • Savella (Milnacipran)
  • Paxil (Paroxetine)
  • Adipost (Phendimetrazine)
  • Nardil (Phenelzine)
  • Lomaira (Phentermine)
  • Dexatrim (Phenylpropanolamine)
  • Orap (Pimozide)
  • Matulane (Procarbazine)
  • Emsam (Selegiline)
  • Zoloft (Sertraline)
  • Meridia (Sibutramine)
  • Nucynta (Tapentadol)
  • Ultram (Tramadol)
  • Parnate (Tranylcypromine)
  • Effexor (Venlafaxine)
  • Viibryd (Vilazodone)
  • Trintellix (Vortioxetine)

It is strongly advised to not use meth in tandem with any of these medications. There are significant interactions that may occur, and the clinical risks may outweigh any potential benefits.

Danger #4: Long-Term Health Risks

Meth use is very destructive to the brain and body and can produce long-term health complications. Some people seem to recover from certain complications, while other conditions appear to be permanent. Some of the more immediate and direct effects are produced from the method a user chooses to do meth.

Some of the risks of snorting meth include:

  • Loss of Sense of Smell
  • Frequent Nosebleeds
  • Sinus Infections
  • Deviated or Perforated Septum (holes in the cartilage that separates the nostrils)
  • Abscesses (which may become septic and lethal)

Some of the risks of smoking meth are:

  • Lung Damage
  • Meth Mouth (extreme dental and gum line decay)
  • Diminished Sense of Taste (usually temporary)

Some of the risks of shooting up Meth include:

  • Endocarditis: Infection of the interior of the heart. Typically caused by strep. or staph. bacteria which are common in the mouth and can be introduced into the blood by shooting up.
  • Infection: Due to repeated use of the same area or veins, there is a heightened risk of skin infection.
  • Septic Embolism: An infected piece of tissue that becomes dislodged and travels through the circulatory system. Typically originate from repeatedly shooting up in the same spot. Can progress to potentially fatal abscesses or blood infections.
  • Rhabdomyolysis: Caused by dead muscle tissue breaking down into the blood, causing kidney damage or failure. Can be caused by repeatedly shooting up and subsequent tissue damage. Is potentially fatal and kidney damage may be permanent. Getting rhabdomyolysis once increases the risk of subsequent occurrences.
  • Liver Damage
  • Hepatitis B or C: Viral liver infection commonly acquired by sharing needles. Can progress to cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Kidney Damage
  • HIV/AIDS

Except for liver and kidney damage, the above-mentioned dangers are secondary since they are only from the route someone does meth, and not from crystal meth itself. Some of the short term dangers that are a result of meth itself include:

  • Malnutrition: Many people who use meth report having to “force” themselves to eat. This effect does not take into account the fact that some people will choose to buy meth over buying food during active addiction.
  • Dehydration: Meth use promotes hyperthermia (increased body temperature) and excessive sweating as well as decreasing the urge to drink. In this manner, it is common for many addicts to become dehydrated. Dehydration causes lowered blood pressure and thus decreased blood flow to the Kidneys, greatly increasing the risk of Kidney damage/failure.
  • Tooth and Gum Decay (aka Meth Mouth): Due to dehydration, bruxism (teeth grinding), and the variety of chemicals in meth itself, tooth decay is very common among meth users.
  • Amphetamine Psychosis: A common result from psychostimulant abuse, but much more widespread with meth use. Symptoms can be indistinguishable from acute paranoid schizophrenia and can include a variety of symptoms such as visual/auditory/tactile hallucinations, paranoid delusions, disorganized thoughts, erratic behavior, and violent outbursts.
  • Stroke: Due to the rapid rise in blood pressure that meth produces, the risk for stroke is greatly increased. A stroke is when blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted either by arterial blockage or rupture (ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, respectively). Using meth in any way can increase the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke while shooting up meth adds the additional risk of an ischemic stroke. Either could be fatal.

Danger #5: Legal Consequences

According to the United States Sentencing Commission, between 2014 and 2018, there was a 19.6% increase in the number of meth trafficking cases in the US. As far as meth trafficking in 2018, the average offense was level 32, which translates to between 1.5 to 5 kilograms of meth mixture (less than 80% pure), or 150 to 500 grams of methamphetamine “actual” (meth that is 80% or purer). The average sentence in these cases was 96 months and this is including the fact that 51.7% received some type of sentence reduction due to either “Substantial Assistance” or an early disposition program.

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that chronic meth use can degrade higher-level brain functions such as impulse control and the ability to empathize with other people, leading to more violent interactions with others. The exact dynamic of the relationship between crystal meth and violence is unclear, although people who use meth do exhibit more violent tendencies than other drug users on average. Compared to heroin users, meth users are 1.94 times more likely to commit violent crimes. This is due to multiple factors including the extreme boost in energy and confidence as well as the increased risk of psychosis and paranoia produced through chronic meth use.

References

  1. National Vital Statistics Report: Regional Differences in the Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths – United States, 2017
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration: NFLIS-Drug 2019 Midyear Report
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration: Alarming Spike in Fentanyl-related Overdose Deaths Leads Officials to Issue Public Warning
  4. United States Sentencing Commission: Methamphetamine Trafficking Offenses
  5. Journal of Drug Issues: Methamphetamine Use and Violent Behavior – User Perceptions and Predictors 
  6. Journal of Criminal Justice: Methamphetamine Use and Violence Among Young Adults
  7. Griffith University School of Psychology: Impulsivity and Positive Psychotic Symptoms Influence Hostility In Methamphetamine Users
  8. Zanjan University of Medical Sciences: A New Approach on Methamphetamine-Induced Hepatotoxicity: Involvement of Mitochondrial Dysfunction

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