What Are Methamphetamines?

Methamphetamines (more commonly known as "meth" or "crystal meth") is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant that acts upon the central nervous system.

Medicinally, methamphetamine is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Medical methamphetamine is a Schedule II Stimulant, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and is only available via prescription. The medical version of methamphetamine has a much lower dose than does the illegal, street version of methamphetamine.

Illegal methamphetamine is produced in makeshift laboratories using cheap and readily-available materials. While the abuse of meth was originally confined to Hawaii and other western parts of the country, use and abuse of methamphetamine continues to spread east - rural areas are increasingly affected. Methamphetamine abuse is a very serious - and growing - problem in the United States.

While most methamphetamine comes from domestic or foreign superlabs, methamphetamine may also be manufactured in small laboratories using cheap over-the-counter ingredients. This makes methamphetamine a drug that has an extremely high potential to pose an even more devastating and widespread abuse.

Methamphetamine may be referred to as:

  • Speed
  • Meth
  • Chalk
  • Ice
  • Crystal
  • Crank
  • Glass
  • Croak
  • Crypto
  • Tweek
  • White Cross

What Are The Differences Between Methamphetamine and Amphetamines?

The parent version of methamphetamine is a widely-used substance called amphetamines; methamphetamine was created in the early 1900's and used in nasal decongestants as well as bronchial inhalators. Both methamphetamine and amphetamines have stimulant effects, including increased energy and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and an overall feeling of well-being.

Methamphetamine, however, differs from amphetamines because at similar dosages, much higher amounts of methamphetamine get into the brain, making the stimulation potential much more potent.

Methamphetamine also has longer, more sustained effects, as well as causing greater side effects on the central nervous system.

How Is Methamphetamine Abused?

Methamphetamine, like many other street drugs, can be abused in a number of forms. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken by mouth. The preferred route of administration varies by region of the country.

Smoking meth, which allows for quicker uptake of the drug into the brain, has been the most common form of meth abuse, which happens to amplify the addiction potential and leads to more serious health complications.

As is the case with other stimulants, such as cocaine, methamphetamine is most frequently abused in a binge/crash manner. The euphoric sensations that methamphetamine causes only last for several minutes, meth users attempt to sustain the high by taking more and more meth.

A meth run is a type of behavior in which a methamphetamine addict binges on meth for several days without food or sleep.

Methamphetamine changes the mood in different manners, depending upon the route of administration. After smoking or injecting methamphetamine, the methamphetamine abuser feels a rush, an intense euphoria, that lasts only a few minutes.

Snorting or ingesting methamphetamine produces similar feelings of euphoria, but not in the same intense rush. Snorting meth creates effects in less than three minutes while ingestion produces effects within 20 minutes.

How Does Methamphetamine Differ From Other Stimulants?

Structurally speaking, Methamphetamine is similar to amphetamine as well as one of the neurotransmitters, dopamine. However, it is structurally dissimilar to cocaine:

While cocaine and methamphetamine produce similar effects on the abuser, the manner in which they work is quite dissimilar.

Cocaine is quickly metabolized and excreted out of the body while methamphetamine has a much longer mechanism of action, and a bigger percentage of the drug remains unchanged within the body, which leads to methamphetamine present in the brain much longer, therefore providing longer stimulant effects.

While both cocaine and methamphetamine increase dopamine levels, studies have shown that based upon the differing mechanism of action of the two drugs, more dopamine is present in the brain after using methamphetamine.

Cocaine prolongs the reuptake of dopamine in the brain, which methamphetamine, at low levels does as well.

Methamphetamine also increases the amount of dopamine that is released by the neurons, as well as blocking the reuptake of dopamine by neurons. This further increases concentration of dopamine in the brain - which may be toxic to the nerve terminals.

What Are The Short Term Effects of Methamphetamine?

Even in small doses, methamphetamine is an extremely potent stimulant. Short-term effects of methamphetamine can include:

  • Increased wakefulness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tachycardia - rapid heart rate
  • Euphoria and intense rush
  • Hypertension - high blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Convulsions
  • Increased physical activity
  • Hyperthermia - increased core body temperature

The pleasurable sensations associated with methamphetamine use are thought to be due to increased levels of dopamine in the brain.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse?

Addiction is one of the most dire consequences of methamphetamine abuse. Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by relapse, and compulsive drug seeking and use.

Chronic methamphetamine abuse changes the brain. Imaging studies of the brain of chronic methamphetamine users have shown that there are changes in the activity of the dopamine system. These changes are associated with reduced speed of motor coordination and decreased visual learning.

The brain of a chronic methamphetamine user also suffers structural and functional changes in the part of the brain associated with both memory and emotions.

Fortunately, at least some of the effects of long-term methamphetamine abuse are partially reversible.

In addition to addiction, long-term chronic methamphetamine use can cause the following to occur:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Aggression and violent behavior
  • Psychotic features, including paranoia, hallucinations and delusions
  • Changes in brain structure and functioning
  • Memory loss
  • Weight loss
  • Dental problems "meth mouth"

Psychotic features can last for months or years after the methamphetamine use has stopped - stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrence of psychosis in formerly psychotic meth abusers.

Methamphetamine Tolerance - the need for more methamphetamine to achieve the same high. Methamphetamine abusers who have developed a tolerance to meth may use higher doses, take the doses more frequently or change their methods of abuse.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal - the process of withdrawal takes place when a chronic meth abuser ceases to take the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intense, strong cravings
  • Exhaustion

Risks of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B/C Among Methamphetamine Abusers:

Some of the serious problems associated with methamphetamine abuse include the transmission of blood-borne illnesses.

Among IV methamphetamine users, the usage of contaminated needles and syringes or other paraphernalia can increase the risk for contracting HIV/AIDS as well as Hepatitis B and C.

While it makes sense that IV drug use can spread these blood-borne illnesses, it's important to note that non-injecting methamphetamine users are also at an increased risk for the development of blood-borne illnesses.


The usage of methamphetamine alters judgement and lowers inhibition, which, in turn, can cause a meth user to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Short-term usage of methamphetamine, unlike many other drugs, increases libido. Long-term methamphetamine abuse does lead to male sexual dysfunction.

It's important to note that the abuse of methamphetamine can worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS.

How Is Methamphetamine Addiction Treated?

Currently, there are no specific medications that can be used to counteract methamphetamine effects or that can help to prolong abstinence or reduce abuse of meth.

The most effective treatment currently for methamphetamine addiction are therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family education, individual counseling, a twelve step support group, random drug testing as well as encouragement of non meth-related activities.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:


Substance Abuse




Cocaine Addiction

Additional Methamphetamine Addiction Resources:

Meth Project: a large-scale prevention program aimed at reducing Meth use through public service messaging, public policy, and community outreach.

DrugFacts: Methamphetamine - the US Government's fact sheets for meth and other drugs of choice.

Crystal Meth Anonymous: 12-step program for those addicted to Crystal Meth.

Drug Guide: Methamphetamine: An overview of methamphetamine, its uses, and information for those who are addicted to crystal meth.

Addiction Detox Centers