Methamphetamine, or meth, is a synthetically produced stimulant that is made by combining and cooking several ingredients, such as acetone, sulphuric acid, lithium, and hydrochloric acid. The precise combination of ingredients varies from one meth lab to another: this variation of ingredients creates challenges not only for the addict, but for medical responders who are trying to administer treatment for an overdose.
Methamphetamine can be ingested in several ways, including smoking, oral ingestion through tablets, snorting in powder form, or dissolving the powder in water or alcohol and injecting it. Each method of ingestion comes with its own set of risks, over and above the risks associated with the drug itself:
- Smoking: respiratory complaints
- Snorting: blistering or sores around the nose
- Intravenous: Track marks and punctures; collapsed veins; risk of HIV and hepatitis from shared needles
- Oral ingestion: digestive complaints such as abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting
Crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine that gets its name from its glass-like appearance and blue-white colour. Crystal meth can be ingested through any of the means described above, but it is usually smoked using a small glass pipe.
The Binge And Crash Cycle
People take methamphetamine because it produces an intense rush of euphoria that last for several minutes, followed by a less intense but more enduring high that can go on for half a day.
The high is followed by a crash that happens quickly: the user goes from euphoria to desolation in a matter of minutes. In many cases, the depression and hopelessness that they feel is so unbearable that they take more of the drug in order to recreate the high.
This starts a cycle of binging alternating with crashing, that can go on for days or weeks.
The user experiences the euphoric rush followed by the high. This is accompanied by elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing, loss of appetite and wakefulness. During a binge, the individual repeatedly takes methamphetamine in order to avoid crashing. They may go for several days without sleeping, and barely eating anything at all. During this time, they may also display obsessive compulsive behaviour.
After several days of not sleeping or eating, and of taking methamphetamine multiple times, the user’s body finally crashes, and an extended phase of exhaustion follows. The individual spends an extended period of time sleeping.
After several cycles of binging and crashing, the user will start to experience some of the longer term effects of methamphetamine use. These include:
- Dental problems, commonly referred to as “meth mouth”
- Rapid weight loss
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Meth psychosis, characterized by the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin
- Erratic behaviour that may become violent
- Memory loss and cognitive decline as the brain’s chemical structure starts to change
- Twitching, rapid eye movement and hyperactivity
- Periods of extreme wakefulness alternating with periods of deep exhaustion
High Risk Of Complications And Death
Methamphetamine is regarded as one of the most dangerous drugs known to man. Not only does extended use result in far-reaching consequences, some of which may be irreversible, even a single use can cause a lot of damage.
Methamphetamine is produced in illegal labs that do follow any safety standards, and it contains ingredients that are toxic to humans. Adding to the danger of this substance is that the fact that every batch contains different ingredients, so the nature and severity of the effects can be unpredictable and difficult for medical personnel to treat.