Dangers and Signs of Crystal Meth Use

Methamphetamine Use Linked to High Rates of HIV and Hepatitis C

CC license at https://www.flickr.com/photos/24258698@N04/2299661653/in/
Photograph © Adronicusmax

Methamphetamine (commonly referred to as crystal meth) has its roots in some very unexpected places. Military pilots are known to have used amphetamines to stay awake during long distant flights to bombing targets at wartime. Later, long-haul truckers often turned to the drug to allow them to make non-stop coast to coast journeys.

By the 1960s, the social counter-culture revolution fueled the use of amphetamines as a recreational drug of choice.

Tightening drug laws in the 1970s made access the all more difficult, and for awhile it seemed as if the amphetamine use had all but disappeared.

It was only in the late 1980s that the use of amphetamines returned , primarily in the form of the supercharged version called methamphetamine. Manufactured in makeshift "meth labs," users both young and old, urban and rural, began latching onto a drug that was relatively cheap and gave an immediate, long-lasting high.

What is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is the synthetic white crystalline powder form of amphetamines. While the legal form of amphetamines is used primarily as a short-term treatment for obesity, crystal meth is used as a party drug because of its ability to enhance the senses, increase sexual arousal and cause a longer-lasting euphoric high than most other street drugs.

When used (either by smoking, injecting or snorting), people can go for days without sleep and often  engage in high-risk sex due to the sexual disinhibition the drug can create.

While the legal form of the drug is odorless, crystal meth can smell slightly of ammonia as a result of the chemicals used for manufacture.

How is Crystal Meth Made?

Crystal meth is "cooked" in illegal labs using household chemicals and solvents readily purchased in grocery and hardware stores, as well as over-the-counter drugs such as pseudoephedrine.

The chemicals and processes used to create crystal meth are highly volatile, with lay manufacturers often at risk of explosion and injury when cooking.

What Are the Hazards of Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is highly addictive, with most people experiencing a waning of effects over time. As a result, drug dose and frequency are usually increased the more a person uses, not only to achieve the desired high but to prevent the emotional lows that can follow once the drug is stopped.

In low doses, crystal meth heightens the senses and makes the users more alert. In higher doses, the drug causes exhilaration and euphoria. At this level, a person's heart rate will increase and the body temperature can rise to unhealthy, potentially deadly levels. Over time, the user can  become paranoid, agitated and exhibit bizarre and risky behavior.

Some experts believe that it is impossible to not become addicted to crystal meth, more so when a person resorts to injecting the drug. Some studies, in fact, suggest  that 9 out of 10 people who inject can be clinically classified as addicted.

While those who smoke  or snort the drug may take longer to become addicted, many do turn to injecting (also known as "slamming"). Lowered inhibitions often lead to needle sharing, which further increases the risk of disease transmission, including HIV and hepatitis C.

Consequences of Long-Term Use

The body produces two substances, dopamine and norepinephrine, to stimulate the body. Crystal meth essentially amps up the effect, resulting in the euphoric state.

However, overuse eventually "burns out" the body's ability to produce these chemicals and, rather than sustained high, the user will experience ever-increasing cycles of numbness and depression as the effects of the drugs wear off. By this time, common signs of addiction become apparent, including:

  • The crystal "stink breath" and body odor, the latter of which smells of resin particularly when the person sweats.
  • The uncontrolled rocking of the body and facial tics that accompany drug usage. Repetitive grinding of the teeth is a common feature.
  • Marked weight loss and facial wasting can often be seen in frequent users, due in part to dehydration but also to long-term cellular effects that result in increased acne, pore blockage and cavitation around the person's eyes and cheeks.
  • Shared needle use frequently results in a staphylococcal (staph) infections that require urgent medical attention. 

What Can Be Done?

Steps are being taken to address the crystal meth problem, with increased public health campaigns centered around high-risk HIV communities (e.g. youth, men who have sex with men). Some states have limited the purchase of over-the-counter pseudoephedrine.

Other groups are turning to online prevention, centered around many gay "hook up" sites where crystal meth use is subversively advertised among users—using terms such as PNP ("party and play"), "tweaking" (being high), "on point" (injecting), and "chem sex" (sex with drugs). 

Despite this, crystal meth use is still unnecessarily high with intervention often taking place only after an HIV or hepatitis C infection has occurred. Greater effort must  be taken to address crystal meth use in younger people, highlighting the risk of both usage and disease acquisition, while support groups and substance abuse treatment outreach are needed for those who are fighting addiction.

To find a treatment or prevention resource nearest you, contact your regional 24-hour AIDS hotline or your nearest community health center. Treatment programs can be found at the directory of substance abuse treatment centers and free rehab centers.

Source:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Methamphetamine Use and Risk for HIV/AIDS." Atlanta, Georgia; published January 2007; 

Continue Reading