Volume 11, Number 5
Facts About Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant with a high potential
abuse and dependence. A synthetic drug, methamphetamine is closely related
chemically to amphetamine, but produces greater effects on the central nervous
system. The drug's euphoric effects are similar to but longer lasting than
those of cocaine.
Methamphetamine takes the form of a white, odorless, and bitter-tasting
crystalline powder, readily soluble in water or alcohol. Street methamphetamine
is referred to by many names including "meth," "speed," "zip," "go-fast," "cristy," "chalk,"
and "crank." Pure methamphetamine hydrochloride, the smokable
form of the drug, is called "L.A." or - because of its clear, chunky
crystals- "ice" "crystal," "glass," or "quartz."
Methods and Effects of Use
Methamphetamine can be smoked, injected intravenously, snorted, or ingested
orally. The drug alters mood in different ways, depending on how it is taken.
Immediately after smoking or intravenous injection, the user experiences
an intense "rush" or "flash" that lasts only a few minutes
and is described as extremely pleasurable. Smoking or injecting produces
effects fastest, within 5 to 10 seconds. Snorting or ingesting orally produces
euphoria - a high but not an intense rush. Snorting produces effects within
3 to 5 minutes, and ingesting orally produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.
Even small amounts of methamphetamine can produce euphoria, enhanced wakefulness,
increased physical activity, decreased appetite, and increased respiration.
Other central nervous system effects include athetosis (writhing, jerky,
or flailing movements), irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, anxiety,
aggression, hyperthermia, and convulsions. Hyperthermia and convulsions
sometimes can result in death.
Cardiovascular side effects include chest pain and hypertension and sometimes
can result in cardiovascular collapse and death. In addition, methamphetamine
causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and sometimes can cause irreversible
damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes. Methamphetamine
abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates
of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns.
Psychological symptoms of prolonged methamphetamine abuse can resemble those
of schizophrenia and are characterized by paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive
behavior patterns, and formication (delusions of parasites or insects on
the skin). Methamphetamine-induced paranoia can result in homicidal or suicidal
thoughts. Although no characteristic physical signs of withdrawal are associated
with methamphetamine abuse, users report drug craving, depressed mood, sleepiness,
Extent of Use
NIDA's 1996 Monitoring the Future study, which assessed the extent of drug
use among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders across the country, reports that:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Drug Abuse
Warning Network reports that from 1991 to 1994, the number of methamphetamine-related
visits to hospital emergency departments more than tripled, from 4,887 to
- When high school seniors were asked if they had used crystal methamphetamine
at least once in their lifetimes, 4.4 percent said they had-an increase
from 2.7 percent in 1990;
- In that same year, when high school seniors were asked if they had used
crystal methamphetamine in the 12 months prior to the survey, 2.8 percent
said they had-an increase from 1.3 percent in 1990.
From NIDA NOTES, November/December, 1996
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