Basic Facts About Methamphetamine

Meth Is A Highly Addictive Stimulant

crystal meth in a bag
Daniel Kaesler/EyeEm/Getty Images

Methamphetamine is closely related chemically to amphetamine, but the central nervous system effects of methamphetamine are greater.

Both drugs have some medical uses, but their therapeutic use is limited.

Street Names

As with most illegal drugs, methamphetamine has a variety of "nicknames," including:

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant that strongly activates certain systems in the brain and speeds up the body's central nervous system.

It was originally marketed as a nasal decongestant.

What Does Meth Look Like?

Wondering if that bag of stuff you found in your loved one's belongings is meth or something else? Meth is either a white or yellowish crystalline powder. Sometimes it's in the form of a large hard rock. It is odorless when you give it a sniff (don't get too close and accidentally inhale any) and has a bitter taste (don't taste it).

How Do Users Take Meth?

Users ingest methamphetamine in a variety of ways:

  • orally - eating it
  • smoking
  • snorting through the nose
  • intravenous injection

Who Is More Likely to Use Meth?

In the past, the most common user of methamphetamine was an adult male with a lower than average income.

Currently, users are from any economic status, all ages and all genders.

What Are the Effects of Methamphetamine?

The effects of meth differ depending on how you use it. If you smoke it or inject it intravenously, you will feel a strong sensation, resembling a vibration or 'rush', which diminishes within a few minutes.

If you snort or swallow meth, you get a feeling of temporary euphoria. Meth users will become talkative, confident and other times paranoid, aggressive and agitated.

The Short-Term Effects of Meth?

It only takes a small amount of meth to produce any of the following short-term side effects:

  • nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • increased respiration
  • irritability
  • confusion
  • tremors and convulsions
  • anxiety and paranoia
  • stroke
  • death

The Long-Term Effects of Meth

The long-term effects of meth are even more serious than the short-term ones and include: 

  • amphetamine psychosis
  • extreme paranoia and hallucinations
  • sensations of insects crawling under the skin and obsessive scratching
  • violent behavior
  • strokes
  • irregular heartbeat and heart attack
  • seizures
  • death

Meth Is Highly Addictive

Meth is a highly addictive drug and users quickly develop a tolerance to the amount they are taking. The longer users take meth, the more they need, even to the point of depriving themselves of basic needs such as food and sleep, in order to keep administering the drug to feed their addiction.

When an addict stops doing meth they go into withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal from meth include:

  • stomach cramps
  • intense hunger
  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • exhaustion
  • severe depression

Other Meth Precautions

Methamphetamine causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes.

Other side effects of methamphetamine include:

  • respiratory problems
  • irregular heartbeat
  • extreme anorexia
  • cardiovascular collapse

Meth and the Results of Animal Research

Animal research going back more than 20 years shows that high doses of methamphetamine damage neuron cell endings. Dopamine- and serotonin-containing neurons do not die after methamphetamine use, but their nerve endings ("terminals") are cut back and re-growth appears to be limited.


National Institute on Drug Abuse

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

Continue Reading