Over the past two decades, methamphetamine, also known as meth, speed, ice or crystal, has become one of the most common drugs of abuse around the world. In the United States alone, there are said to be more than 400,000 current users, and in some states, including California, meth accounts for more primary substance abuse treatment admissions than any other drug. Meth has characteristics that make it more addictive than other common drugs of abuse.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol and is taken by smoking, sniffing (snorting) or by needle injection. Even more, the drug increases activity, decreases appetite and causes a general sense of well-being. Some users will continue taking doses of methamphetamine every so often in order to sustain the high and to avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms.
Yaba, the Thai word for “crazy medicine,” is a tablet form of methamphetamine. These synthetically produced pills contain 25 to 35 mg of meth and 45 to 65 mg of caffeine. Tablets are available in a variety of flavors and colors. Yaba looks and tastes so much like candy that many young users, often including ecstasy users, underestimate its harmfulness. Methamphetamine is also available in powder (“crystal”) form, which can be processed into a rock (“ice”) or liquid form. Often distributed as a capsule, powder or in chunks resembling pieces of ice, it is difficult to know the exact strength of methamphetamine or what dangerous chemicals it has been cut with, even when buying from a familiar supplier. Taking crystal meth with other drugs, including alcohol, greatly increases the risk of overdose and death. Meth is highly addictive, produces extreme cravings and can have very negative effects.
What are the negative effects of meth use?
Short-term effects of meth include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure and hyperthermia. In addition to being physically addictive, methamphetamine can also be very psychologically addictive as well. Under the influence of methamphetamine, users experience bursts of energy, talkativeness and excitement.
Users are able to go for hours or even days without sleep or food. The most dangerous stage of meth abuse occurs when an abuser has not slept in 3-15 days and is irritable and paranoid. This behavior is referred to as “tweaking,” and the user is known as a “tweaker.” The tweaker craves more meth, but it is difficult to achieve the original high, causing frustration and unstable behavior in the user. Because of the tweaker’s unpredictability, there have been reports that they can react violently, which can lead to involvement in domestic disputes, spur-of-the-moment crimes or motor vehicle accidents.
A tweaker can appear normal with clear eyes, concise speech and brisk movements; however, a closer look will reveal that the person’s eyes are moving ten times faster than normal, the voice has a slight quiver and movements are quick and jerky. These physical signs are more difficult to identify if the tweaker has been using a depressant such as alcohol; however, if the tweaker has been using a depressant, their negative feelings, including paranoia and frustration, can increase substantially.
There are several indicators that can help identify a person who has been abusing methamphetamine, such as insomnia, anxiety and violent or psychotic behavior. If this type of behavior is not typical for that person, they may have a drug problem. Chronic meth users also often display poor hygiene, a pale, unhealthy complexion and sores on their bodies from picking at “crank bugs,” the tactile hallucination that tweakers often experience. In addition, users may have cracked teeth due to extreme jaw-clenching during a methamphetamine high.
Long-term meth abuse has many negative health consequences, including extreme weight loss, severe dental problems, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances and violent behavior. Long-term effects also include problems with thinking, memory, and movement. Chronic meth abusers often display psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions.