Meth is similar to other psychostimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, and MDPV (bath salts) however it is much more potent than any of these. For example, the half-life of cocaine is 1 hour, compared to the half-life of meth which is 12 hours. This means that the euphoric effects of meth are significantly prolonged when compared to cocaine. As mentioned, meth is essentially an “amped up” version of amphetamine, so it is by nature much more potent and longer-lasting in its effects than other amphetamines. While meth is a member of the amphetamine family, it is much more potent than other amphetamines. This is due to the added methyl groups which allow methamphetamine to enter the brain much more rapidly, and to affect the brain much more strongly. Thus the name meth (methyl) amphetamine. Likewise, since meth acts on both neurotransmitters as well as hormones, the mental and physical effects of meth use are far-reaching and very potent.
What Happens To Your Body When You Use Meth?
Meth is extremely hard on the body of users, affecting a wide range of body systems. Since some of the neurotransmitters that are affected by meth may also act as hormones, the physical repercussions are very intense. Meth users are commonly perceived by society as being extremely underweight, having few teeth, and generally just looking like a train wreck. There is a good reason for this, as meth is extremely corrosive to tooth enamel, it reduces or eliminates appetite entirely, and sleep deprivation has a heavy negative impact on every system in the body.
The use of meth also impacts the immune system in a very negative way. Through ways not fully understood, meth can increase the immune response to the point of causing inflammation in a wide range of body systems, including the brain. This also contributes to the overall mental and physical decline of meth users.
In the blood, norepinephrine acts to stimulate blood flow to muscles, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and greatly increase blood sugar levels. This results in an almost godlike feeling of physical strength, endurance, and capability. This can also dramatically increase the risk of stroke, hemorrhagic stroke in general, as well as an ischemic stroke if someone is shooting up meth. With frequent meth use the heart becomes overworked, and this in turn can increase the risk of various heart arrhythmias, some of which can be fatal.
Finally, meth use is known to promote the release of endotoxins into the blood. These compounds are normally found inside of 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 inhibits the normal anti-inflammatory response of acetylcholine which can make inflammation issues worse. Finally, meth produces hyperthermia or increased body temperature. This is potentially dangerous as it can worsen inflammation, as well as being more directly threatening in the form of heatstroke.
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 breaths per minute increase, as well as an increase in oxygen exchange efficiency per breath. This increases the sense of physical power which is felt by the user. 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. Even though oxygen exchange is increased in the lungs, 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 subsequently compromised. This causes digestion to slow or stop, but may also cause diarrhea and intestinal cramping and is certain to inhibit normal nutrient absorption which contributes to malnutrition¹.
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 excess norepinephrine release from meth use hijacks this system. This further decreases gastrointestinal function and can result in paralytic ileus (total blockage of the intestines)¹ or an intestinal infarction which is potentially fatal¹.
Meth use is known to drastically increase sex drive and sexual desire and it also has severe effects on reproduction 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 remains. Sperm motility (ability to swim) is heavily reduced, as well as causing DNA damage to the sperm which retain motility¹. Meth use is also known to reduce blood testosterone levels, as well as inhibiting the normal hormone regulation pathways in the brain and body¹. 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 includes 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 ovaries¹.
- During or After Pregnancy: Meth use by women during pregnancy is a massive risk to the fetus and the mother alike. Factors which 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 secreted in breast milk, making children much more irritable, anxious, and interfering with normal mental development.
Immediate Physical Effects of Meth Use
Crystal meth is a psychostimulant as well as being a sympathomimetic drug. Sympathomimetic drugs act to mimic the normal activators of the sympathetic nervous system which are both neurotransmitters as well as hormones. In this way, meth can exert its powerful effects physically as well as mentally. From a physical standpoint, meth increases the lung’s ability to exchange oxygen through bronchodilation, increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and causes blood sugar levels to soar.
When released in the levels produced through meth use, the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine can produce some obvious and outwardly visible signs. A surge of any one of these neurotransmitters would be intense on its own, but when all three are bulk released in tandem the effects can be overwhelming. 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 / Sweating
Long Term Physical Effects of Meth Use
Using meth for extended periods of time is certain to produce negative consequences. These can range from physical degradation due to chemicals in meth, lack of hygiene, malnutrition, and lack of sleep as well as more long-lasting neurological damage, which may or may not be reversible. The physical consequences are fairly straight forward, and are a direct result of the stresses imposed by the drug. Some of these physical aspects 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”
The route someone chooses to use meth also introduces unique effects or risks.
When snorting meth, some long term effects include:
- Loss of Sense of Smell
- Frequent Nosebleeds
- Sinus Infections¹
- Deviated or Perforated Septum (holes in the cartilage that separates the nostrils)
- Abscesses (which may become Septic and lethal)¹²
- Increased Risk of Disease (when sharing a snorting utensil with someone)
Some of the effects of smoking meth include:
- Lung Damage
- Increased Risk of “Meth Mouth”
- Diminished Sense of Taste (usually temporary)
Some of the risks and dangerous effects of shooting up meth include:
- Endocarditis: Infection of the interior of the heart. Typically caused by Strep. or Staph. bacteria that are common in the mouth and can be introduced into the blood by shooting up.
- Septic Embolism: An infected piece of tissue that becomes dislodged and travels through the circulatory system. Typically originate from 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. Is potentially fatal and kidney damage may be permanent. Getting rhabdomyolysis once increases the risk of subsequent occurrence.
- Hepatitis B or C: Can progress to cirrhosis of the liver.
- Kidney Damage: Due to meth metabolism and adulterants/contaminants in the drug as well as secondary effects of shooting up such as rhabdomyolysis.
- Progress In Neurobiology: Mechanisms of Neurotransmitter Release by Amphetamines – A Review
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Methamphetamine Abuse in Women of Reproductive Age
- University of Hawaii: Department of Obstetrics: Methamphetamines and Pregnancy Outcomes
- The Permanente Journal: The “Party” Drug Crystal Methamphetamine – Risk Factor For The Acquisition of HIV
- Current Drug Abuse Reviews: Mechanism of Action of Methamphetamine within the Catecholamine and Serotonin Areas of the Central Nervous System