Mental & Physical Effects of Crystal Meth
Crystal meth is an illicitly manufactured form of methamphetamine that may resemble shards of glass or bluish-white rocks.1 Sometimes called Tina, ice, or glass, crystal meth can be snorted or smoked, although it may also be dissolved into a liquid solution down and injected.1,2
Crystal Methamphetamine Effects (Short-Term)
Methamphetamine (meth) is a central nervous system stimulant that produces a powerful high with effects similar to cocaine or other amphetamines.2
Crystal meth is supposedly purer than powdered methamphetamine and produces a more intense “high” that may last up to 12 hours.1 When a user smokes crystal meth, the drug leads to a rapid and large release of dopamine in the brain, which causes feelings of euphoria and pleasure within a few seconds.3
Other short-term effects of using crystal meth include:2,3
- A sense of increased energy and decreased fatigue.
- Artificially elevated mood and confidence.
- Racing thoughts and pressured speech.
- Decreased appetite.
- Increased sexual drive.
- Enlarged pupils.
- Muscle twitches.
- Rapid breathing.
- Fast or irregular heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Increased body temperature.
What Does Meth Do to Your Body?
Chronic use of crystal meth over time can have long-term effects on a user’s physical and psychological health.1,2,3,4
Long-term meth use can result in numerous physical health problems, including unhealthy weight loss, severe dental problems, and liver or kidney damage. 1,2,3,4 Some more details about how meth can affect your body are discussed below.
Tooth decay, cavities, and tooth loss (sometimes collectively referred to as “meth mouth”) are common among chronic crystal meth users.4 This condition is caused by the combination of dry mouth and teeth grinding that are common effects of meth, as well as the fact that meth users often neglect their oral hygiene and nutrition.4
Meth Effects on Skin
Methamphetamine use can cause severe itchiness and/or the sensation that bugs are crawling under the skin. 2,3 As a result, they may pick at their skin, which can also cause irritation, lesions, abscesses, and sores.3 Left untreated, meth skin sores and abscesses can progress to the point of being potentially life-threatening infections.3
Meth and Weight Loss
Long-term abuse of meth can cause extreme weight loss. Neglecting to eat enough or eat healthy foods can also lead to malnutrition and associated issues such as electrolyte disturbances. The consequences of malnutrition are wide-ranging and include issues such as:5
- Decreased muscle function.
- Cardiac and respiratory problems.
- Decreased immune system functioning.
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea.
Cardiovascular problems are a serious potential consequence of chronic meth use that may affect even young users.3 Long-term meth effects on the heart and cardiovascular system include increased risk of:1,3
- Rapid heart rate.
- Abnormal heart rhythms.
- High blood pressure.
- Damage to tiny blood vessels (e.g., cerebral microvasculature).
- Inflammation of heart lining.
- Infection of the heart lining and damaged heart valves (e.g., from non-sterile needle use).
- Overall decline in cardiac function.
- Heart attack.
Crystal meth abuse is associated with the risk of infectious disease (HIV/ hepatitis) transmission.2 Sharing needles with other users significantly increases disease transmission risk, so those who inject crystal meth are very vulnerable.2 Further, meth impairs decision-making and can lead to engaging in dangerous behaviors, like having unprotected sex, which also increases the likelihood of infectious disease transmission.2
People with HIV/AIDS who continue to use meth are more likely to have cognitive problems, including difficulties with thinking, learning, and memory.2
What Are the Effects of Meth on Mental Health?
Long-term meth use can also cause psychological problems such as:1,2,3,4
- Sleeping problems.
- Loss of touch with reality.
- Violent behavior.
When present, some people may experience meth-induced psychotic symptoms for several months or even years after stopping the drug.1,4
Crystal Meth and Brain Damage
Long-term crystal meth use can cause changes to the structure and functioning of the brain.2 Some of the brain changes associated with meth use may be reversible with a period of sustained sobriety.2 However, other changes may persist long after a person quits using.2
Chronic meth use alters the dopamine system in the brain, which can negatively impact a user’s sense of coordination and verbal learning.2 Other meth-related brain changes can lead to:3,4,6
- Attention and memory problems.
- Impulse control issues.
- Loss of dexterity in hands and fingers.
- Mood disturbances, such as depression or anxiety.
Meth also affects the functioning of microglial cells in the brain, which are cells that help maintain brain health by eliminating damaged neurons and protecting the brain against pathogens.4 However, too much activation of microglial cells can cause the cells to harm healthy neurons.4 Studies have found that meth users have nearly double the amount of microglial cells compared to people who do not use meth.4 Fortunately, this effect is believed to be reversible, since former meth users with at least two years of abstinence show normal activation levels of microglial cells.4
There is some evidence that past methamphetamine users may be at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition that affects movement and coordination.2 Both Parkinson’s disease and long-term meth use are associated with decreased dopamine in the striatum region of the brain.7
Finally, meth alters the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which impacts the release of stress hormones.8 Studies suggest that these changes affect how a person responds to stress, which can lead to continued abuse of meth as a way to cope.8
Health Risks of Crystal Meth Overdose
Overdose is always a risk with any crystal meth use.2 Meth overdoses can be deadly.2 In the span of just 11 years from 2005 to 2016, deaths involving psychostimulants including methamphetamine rose 387%.9
Laced Meth and Overdose Risk
The risk of a meth overdose may be even higher when meth is mixed with another drug.3 In some cases the user may voluntarily combine meth with another substance in hopes of enhancing the high. However, other times meth may be adulterated with other substances without the user’s knowledge.9,10
Crystal meth has a reputation for being pure; however, any form of methamphetamine can be adulterated without the buyer’s knowledge. For example, fentanyl, a very potent opioid, has been found in batches of meth seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).9 In 2018, there were 95 DEA reports of meth that contained fentanyl.9 Crystal meth that contains even a small amount of fentanyl carries a significant risk for fatal overdose.9
Signs of a Meth Overdose
Potential signs and symptoms of an overdose on methamphetamine include:1,2,3
- Dangerously elevated blood pressure.
- Irregular heart rate.
- Heart attack.
- Hyperthermia (high body temperature).
- Difficulty breathing.
- Organ failure.
Overdosing on meth can lead to serious health complications. In some cases, a meth overdose may affect organs like the heart, kidneys, or liver,2,3 which can have long-term effects on a person’s health. The most serious complication of a meth overdose is death.1
Crystal Meth Addiction
Addiction is also a very real consequence of repeated methamphetamine use.4 Someone with a methamphetamine addiction may find themselves unable to end their compulsive use of the drug despite suffering negative consequences from such use.11
People who are addicted to meth are said to have a stimulant use disorder, which is a diagnosis given by mental health professionals that indicates a loss of control over drug use.11
Some signs of a stimulant use disorder include:11
- Using more stimulants or using them more often than intended.
- Having strong cravings or urges to use meth or other stimulants.
- Continuing to take stimulants even though it causes or worsens medical or psychological problems.
- Needing more stimulants over time to achieve the desired high.
Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug that can have serious short and long-term effects on the brain and body.4 Getting treatment may help reduce the likelihood of permanent and irreversible damage. Treatment can also help you learn new and better ways to cope that don’t involve drug use. At Recovery First, we utilize evidence-based and holistic therapies to help you discover healthy methods of dealing with stress, trauma, and other challenges.