Methamphetamine (crystal meth) is a central nervous system stimulant with a high potential for misuse and dependence. A synthetic drug, it is closely related chemically to amphetamine (‘speed’) but produces greater effects on the central nervous system. The drug is also known by the street names of ‘meth’, ‘crank’ or ‘ice’.
Its euphoric effects are similar to; but more intense and longer lasting than those of cocaine. Methamphetamine takes the form of a white, odourless and bitter tasting crystalline powder, readily soluble in water or alcohol, and can also be produced in tablet or powder form. It can be smoked, injected, snorted or consumed orally.
The drug alters mood in different ways, depending on how it is taken. Immediately after smoking or injecting the user experiences an intense rush, similar to that produced by crack cocaine but longer lasting. Even small amounts of methamphetamine can produce euphoria, arousal, wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite and increased respiration. Common side effects include nausea, panic attacks, compulsive repetitive behaviour and jaw clenching.
Regular use of methamphetamine can lead to dependency, with increased tolerance to the effects of the drug and physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can include depression, anxiety and craving for the drug. Some studies have linked reduced motor skills with methamphetamine use, which may be indicative of a predisposition towards Parkinson’s disease for users of the drug.
Effects can last between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the way it is taken. Existing studies have been unable to establish a “safe” or “unsafe” level of methamphetamine – even for the same person with repeated doses.
It can cause psychiatric problems with symptoms resembling those associated with paranoid schizophrenia, such as paranoia and hallucinations. Methamphetamine induced psychosis (a mental health problem brought on by the use of methamphetamine that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them) can result in homicidal or suicidal thoughts. It is also associated with violent and aggressive behaviour and with crime.
Drug users who inject the drug are at risk of infection from HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B if they share needles and other injecting paraphernalia. Increased sexual arousal and loss of inhibition increase the likelihood of unsafe sexual practices.Heavy and regular users of the drug may suffer tooth loss and decay, a condition known as ‘meth mouth’. Dentists are observing increased incidence of decay and tooth erosion among patients who are methamphetamine users.