IN THIS ARTICLE:
While meth is a member of the amphetamine family, it is much more potent than other amphetamines. It can be thought of as an “amped up” version of amphetamine, as it has an extra methyl group attached that enables it to enter the brain more rapidly and affect the brain more strongly than other amphetamines.
Short-Term Effects of Meth Abuse
When someone uses crystal meth, there can often be some obvious and outwardly visible signs. Some of the immediate effects of meth use which can be seen by others include:
- Jaw Clenching or Teeth Grinding
- Dramatically Increased Energy
- Repeatedly Performing Menial Tasks (cleaning, fidgeting, disassembling things, etc.)
- Non-Stop Intense Talking (usually involving grand plans for the future)
- Dramatically Increased Sex Drive
- Paranoid or Delusional Thinking
- Increased Body Temperature and Sweating
Long-Term Effects of Meth Abuse
Using meth for extended periods of time often produces negative consequences. These can range from physical complications due to the chemicals in meth, lack of dental hygiene, malnutrition, lack of sleep, as well as more long-lasting neurological damage, which may or may not be reversible. Some of the more long-term physical dangers may include:
- Increased Risk of Stroke or Heart Attack
- Liver or Kidney Damage
- Increased Risk of STDs including HIV/AIDS
- Severe Dental Issues, commonly known as “Meth Mouth”
- Brain Damage
How it Affects Each System
Meth is extremely hard on the body and it places a heavy strain on the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, and muscles all over the body. It is also very harmful to dental health, as meth is extremely corrosive to tooth enamel. Some of the secondary effects of meth are harmful in a more general way by reducing appetite, promoting insomnia, and contributing to dehydration.
For a more fine-grained look at the effects of meth on the body, let’s take a look at some of the strongest effects meth produces in different systems of the body:
When using meth, levels of the hormone norepinephrine spike. Norepinephrine acts to stimulate blood flow to muscles, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and greatly increase blood sugar levels. This results in a feeling of increased physical strength, endurance, and capability. This can also dramatically increase the risk of suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, as well as an ischemic stroke if someone is shooting up meth. With frequent meth use the heart becomes overworked, and this can increase the risk of various heart arrhythmias, some of which can be fatal.
Meth use is also known to promote the release of endotoxins into the blood. These compounds are normally found inside cells and bacteria in the body, but when they are released into the blood they can cause a variety of health issues, some of which can be fatal. Additionally, meth use reduces the normal anti-inflammatory response of acetylcholine which can make inflammation issues worse. Finally, meth use can contribute to hyperthermia, or increased body temperature. This is potentially dangerous as it can worsen inflammation, and if someone is hyperthermic for too long, may lead to brain damage.
Similar to its cardiovascular effects, norepinephrine also acts to increase lung efficiency through bronchodilation. A non-psychoactive variant of meth (levo-methamphetamine) is commonly used in decongestant medications for this reason. Coupled with the increase in heart rate, this acts to put more oxygen into the blood since breathing increases. If someone is shooting meth, the risk of pulmonary embolism is heightened greatly.
Meth has a dampening effect on appetite, but it also causes disruption to the normal digestion process. The vasoconstriction produced by meth can result in intestinal ischemia. This means that blood vessels are constricted to the point that the intestines do not receive enough oxygen, and their function is compromised. This can cause digestion to slow or even stop completely, but may also cause diarrhea and intestinal cramping. It can even lead to reduced nutrient absorption, as the normal digestive functions of the gut are disrupted.
Norepinephrine is also known to slow digestion by reducing muscle function in the intestines. As part of the fight-or-flight response, it is common to sacrifice gut function to use the energy elsewhere for immediate survival, and the norepinephrine release that meth produces can hijack this system. This further decreases gastrointestinal function and can result in paralytic ileus (total blockage of the intestines) or an intestinal infarction which may be fatal.
Meth use is known to increase sex drive and sexual desire. It can also have severe and negative impact on reproductive health in both men and women. Additionally, unborn children can have serious birth defects, both mental and physical, if the mother is using meth while pregnant.
- Male Reproduction: Meth use is known to interfere with male fertility in a number of ways. Prolonged meth use will slightly reduce sperm count, but it will strongly damage the sperm which remain. Sperm motility (ability to swim) is heavily reduced, as well as causing DNA damage to the sperm which retain motility. Meth use is also known to reduce blood testosterone levels, as well as inhibiting the balance of hormones that help maintain healthy reproductive function. All of the effects which have been studied were dose-dependent meaning that the more meth used, the stronger the effects.
- Female Reproduction: The most common sexual side effect of meth use in women is menstrual abnormalities. These can persist for 10 months or more after meth use has stopped. This may include irregular, heavy, or light periods with the increased possibility of anovular menstruation. This is when menstruation occurs without ovulation, meaning that the egg remains in the ovaries.
- During or After Pregnancy: Meth use by women during pregnancy is a massive risk to the fetus and the mother alike. Factors that pose a threat to both can include higher chances of hypertension, placenta previa, placental abruption, amniotic infection, and intrauterine fetal death. There are a variety of birth defects that can result, including deformities of the nervous system, heart, digestive system, limb deformities, and cleft lip or cleft palate. The most common issues for the fetus are premature birth, small gestational size, and low birth weight. Additionally, cognitive deficits and mental health disorders are extremely common in infants born to mothers who used meth during pregnancy. Meth can also be passed into breast milk, making children much more irritable, anxious, and interfering with normal mental development.