The acute effects of crystal meth or methamphetamine include increased heart rate and blood pressure, vasoconstriction (constriction of the arterial walls), pupil dilation and hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar). A person who ingests crystal meth will experience an increased focus and mental alertness, the elimination of the subjective effects of fatigue and a decrease in appetite. Continued high doses of methamphetamine produce anxiety reactions during which the person is fearful, tremulous and concerned about his well-being; a methamphetamine psychosis in which the person misinterprets others’ actions, hallucinates and becomes unrealistically suspicious; an exhaustion syndrome, involving intense fatigue and need for sleep after the stimulation phase; and a prolonged depression, during which suicide is possible.
Crystal meth is reported to attack the immune system, so meth users are often prone to infections of different kinds, one being an MRSA infection. This may simply be a result of long-term sleep deprivation and/or malnutrition.
Other side effects of crystal meth use include twitching, jitteriness, repetitive behavior (known as “tweaking”) and jaw clenching or teeth grinding. It has been noted that methamphetamine addicts lose their teeth abnormally fast; this tooth loss may be due to jaw clenching, although heavy meth users also tend to neglect personal hygiene, such as brushing teeth. It is often claimed that smoking crystal meth speeds the tooth decay process by leaving a crystalline residue on the teeth and while this is apparently confirmed by dentists, no clinical studies have been done to investigate. This early tooth decay in the young is often referred to as “Meth Mouth or Meth Teeth”.
Smoking Crystal Meth
Methamphetamine is commonly smoked in glass pipes or in aluminum foil heated by a flame underneath. The latter is known as “chasing the dragon”. Meth must be heated (not burned) to cause the desired smoke. Smoking meth is probably the most impure form of ingestion. In addition to the possible effects on teeth, it is very damaging to the lungs. Methamphetamine users who smoke it sometimes experience mild asthma. Another problem with smoking meth is the potential presence of oxidation byproducts created when the heated drug comes in contact with air. Even if the initial drug is pure methamphetamine, the act of smoking it produces other chemicals, some of which may be toxic.
Methamphetamine is a powerful nasal decongestant, so methamphetamine users who snort it often have very clear nasal cavities. However, there have been rare cases of people snorting so much meth that their nose cartilage deteriorates, though snorting cocaine is far more likely to cause nasal degeneration, due to its vasoconstrictive properties. Snorting crystal meth may also cause meth mouth or meth teeth (tooth decay), since the nasal passages are directly connected to the mouth region, and it is theorized that damaging crystalline particles can still attach to the teeth. Another theory is that meth directly affects calcium balance in the body. Crystal Meth has also been shown to decrease the production of saliva, the lack of which causes tooth decay.
Shooting Up, Slamming or Injecting Crystal Meth
Injection, often referred to as shooting up or slamming crystal meth, is a popular method for meth use, but potentially carries quite serious risks. The hydrochloride salt of methamphetamine is soluble in water; injection users may use any dose from 200mg to over a gram in one I.V. dose using a small needle. In methamphetamine research, injection users often do not experience severe tooth decay, presumably because there is no residue left as there is through smoking it. But injection users experience greater jaw-clenching than users who snort or smoke it, since injecting methamphetamine has a much more powerful effect. This can cause loose teeth, so injection users still do lose their teeth. Also, this method of ingestion brings the risk of infection; injection users often experience skin rashes that are sometimes referred to as “speed bumps” and all kinds of infections due to methamphetamine damage to the skin. The term “speed bumps” is also used to describe small bumps that sometimes develop on the tongue during meth use. As with any injected drug, if a group of users shares a common needle without sterilization procedures, very grave blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis can be transmitted as well. It has been reported that 60% of methamphetamine related deaths are a result of shooting up crystal meth.
Oral Administration, Ingestion or Ingesting Crystal Meth
The least-detrimental method of taking crystal meth may be oral administration. The effects are moderated over time to a greater degree, and neither teeth, skin, nor nasal passages are directly exposed to potentially harmful chemicals (assuming the user is careful not to allow pure crystal meth to come in contact with these parts of the body during ingestion). The less-intense “high” may make this a less popular choice for administration.
Crystal Meth Detox and Treatment
Methamphetamine use can be difficult to detect at first. However, it is easily revealed if the observer knows what warning signs to look for. Meth users exhibit a number of physical and psychological conditions that can be identified with methamphetamine. Among them are: dilated pupils, insomnia, decreased appetite and possible weight loss, increased agitation and physical activity, excited speech, intense paranoia, possible hallucinations or delusions, episodes of sudden, violent anger, repetitious behaviors such as pick at skin, tooth loss, acne/sores, increased sweating/body odor.
Crystal meth detox and withdrawal symptoms are typically characterized by drug craving, depressed mood, disturbed sleep patterns, and increased appetite. Anti-depressant medications can be prescribed to combat the depressive symptoms frequently seen in methamphetamine withdrawal.
There are cognitive behavioral interventions designed to help modify a patient’s thinking and behaviors, and to increase skills in coping with various life stresses that have been found to be effective treatment for crystal meth addiction. Social model, 12-step based programs have work out well for many, as well. There are also faith-based or Christian Programs available that may be helpful.