You might have thought that methamphetamine was a newer drug, but you’ll be surprised to know a Japanese chemist first synthesized meth in 1893. There are several names such as meth, crystal meth, crank, and speed that all can be used to describe the drug. It was initially used in these early times as a medical treatment for ailments such as narcolepsy, asthma, and as you guessed it, weight loss. It was also used during World War II as a way to keep the troops awake during long battles. Meth use began to skyrocket after the war, and the United States eventually outlawed it in 1970.
The reason the amphetamine was developed was to be a human made alternative to the ephedra plant, which is a type of shrub whose extract has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 5,000 years. The drug proved difficult to make until 1919, when another Japanese scientist by the name of Akira Ogata streamlined the process. He found that using phosphorus and iodine to reduce the ephedrine into a crystallized form would be a much simpler process. In that, crystal meth was born.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that has been used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from weight loss to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Medications like Adderall possess a type of amphetamine salt that can help calm down an overactive nervous system. The drug in its purest form is a solid crystal that looks like shards of glass or clear white rocks. Meth can be smoked or snorted and cause a rapid, intense high that can last up to 12 hours. Using meth can leave a user unable to sleep for days, leading to psychosis and severe hallucinations.
Chronic consumption of meth can cause addiction, and over time, the brain will develop a tolerance that requires much stronger doses to achieve the same pleasurable effects. The use of meth exploded in 1994, and by 2004, just under 2 percent of the United States adult population was reported to be using the drug. Only two years later in 2006, the United Nations declared that meth was the most abused hard drug on earth.
How Meth Affects Your Mind
No matter the means of ingestion, meth will eventually end up in the bloodstream, where it will be circulated throughout the brain. Methamphetamine has the potential to affect many brain structures, but there are specific areas it affects the most that contain dopamine. This area is changed because the chemical composition of dopamine and methamphetamine are similar and provide similar effects.
When users consume meth, they can suffer from delusions and hallucinations. Some report that consuming the drug can leave them unable to sleep because of how it affects dopamine, which is vital to regulating mood, sleep patterns, body weight, focus emotions and more. When your brain is harmed in this way, it does not always bounce back. Meth destroys brain cells that contain these chemicals and with regular use can cause severe damage. Meth has been reported to cause more damage to your brain than other hard drugs like cocaine or heroin.
The permanent damage that meth can cause has the potential to permanently alter the ability to experience feelings of happiness and impair the ability to learn and recall information. In hindsight, it destroys your ability to reason. Chronic users can suffer from a plethora of symptoms ranging from depression to permanent psychosis. Even after the cessation of meth use, the person who used it can experience paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions such as insects crawling under their skin. These thoughts and hallucinations can last months and even years after stopping heavy meth abuse.
The Long-Term Effects of Meth Use
As mentioned above, the symptoms of meth abuse can extend far beyond using. These symptoms can last for months and even years depending on how severe the addiction was. Meth use is also linked to significant changes in the brain. Neuroimaging studies have shown alteration in the active dopamine system that is associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning. Other studies have been conducted, revealing severe structural and functional changes in the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional problems observed in chronic meth users.
Fortunately, some of these effects of chronic meth abuse can be at the very least partially reversible. Individuals with prolonged abstinence from methamphetamine for at least two years showed higher levels of microglial activation. These studies compared those who did not use meth and those that did, recovery from use of the substance yielded improved performance on motor and verbal memory tests. Unfortunately, however, some of this damage was not reversible, and subjects who abused meth still had decreased function in these areas than those who never consumed the drug.
There are other long-term and more physical consequences from meth use. These effects include weight loss, severe tooth decay known as “meth mouth,” and skin sores. The skin sores occur resulting from meth users picking at their skin because of the delusions of insects crawling under their skin. Other long-term effects include:
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Memory loss
- Increased distractibility
- Severe dental problems
- Weight loss
- Changes in brain structure and function
Can You Overdose on Meth?
An overdose happens when someone has consumed a drug and experiences adverse side effects as the drug reacts within the body. This usually occurs as a result of the dosage being more than the body can handle, and if left untreated, it can be fatal. Most meth-related deaths happen when the body suffers from heat stroke that results in multiple organ failure. An overdose from meth can also cause a spike in blood pressure that causes hemorrhage as well as liver failure.
Anyone who uses meth risks having an overdose on the drug. Overdose signs to look out for include:
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Slow heartbeat
If you suspect someone is overdosing on meth, you must immediately call 911. The difference between life and death is getting emergency services to where you are as soon as possible. Methamphetamine abuse can lead to sudden death, and if you’ve reached a point where you have overdosed on the substance, it is time to consider lifesaving treatment.
- As of 2017, 897,000 people age 12 and older currently use meth.
- Meth addiction treatment rose 3% from 2014 to 2015.
- 85% to 90% of stimulant-related drug deaths involve meth.