Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth, crystal, ice, or Tina, is a highly additive synthetic central nervous system stimulant. It can have devastating effects on the body and mind have led it to be classified as a Schedule II substance in the US, making its recreational use highly illegal. In 2018, an estimated 1.9 million (0.7%) Americans aged 12 or older used methamphetamine in the past year.1
Methamphetamine is typically either smoked in a small glass pipe or injected. Both of these methods cause the drug to reach the brain very quickly, with injection being the fastest. This causes a “rush” or “flash” of euphoria—an intensely pleasurable sensation. The drug can also be ingested orally or snorted through the nose, producing a long-lasting high, often marked by increased physical activity, which can last for as long as half a day instead of an intense rush.2
Unlike cocaine, a stimulant that’s quickly removed from and almost completely metabolized in the body, meth remains in the body—largely unchanged by the body’s metabolism—much longer, leading to prolonged stimulant effects. The effects of meth can last anywhere from around 8-24 hours, depending on how much is taken, the time of day, how it was administered (IV, oral, etc.) how well the kidneys and liver are functioning, and the individual’s body chemistry. It has a half-life of 9-24 hours. This means that it takes 9-24 hours for the amount of meth in a person’s blood to be reduced by half.
By this point, withdrawal symptoms will begin to occur, especially if the individual is a heavy, long-term user. Withdrawal symptoms from this drug are extremely unpleasant and come with intense cravings. This often motivates an individual using meth to take more and then more of the drug. The longer and heavier use is, the longer it takes to leave the system entirely.
Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms include:
Though not directly life-threatening like the symptoms of opioid or alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal, the psychological effects can lead people in withdrawal from meth to attack others or harm themselves. It’s highly recommended that “cold turkey” withdrawal management from methamphetamine is not attempted without medical supervision.
Urine tests can usually detect meth for up to 72 hours after the last dose. Methamphetamine metabolizes to amphetamine, which means a drug screen will likely be positive for both substances. Typically, the detection interval in urine for amphetamine-type stimulants is 3 to 5 days after last administration.
This interval may be longer in heavy, chronic users; it may be detected in urine for up to a week.
Other ways that meth use can be detected is through tests of hair, blood, and oral fluids. Blood and oral fluid testing can be more useful and accurate than urine testing for detecting recent ingestion; however, both have lower detection intervals than urine testing.3 Meth can be detected by a hair test for up to 90 days after last use, depending on what type of hair test is used. It is more applicable to forensic or research study testing and is typically not used for clinical or workplace testing.3
Methamphetamine is an incredibly harmful drug, and any suspected addiction should be treated as soon as possible. Recovering from meth addiction can be difficult, but the sooner a person seeks treatment, the easier it will be.
1. Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration. (2019). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: results from the 2018 national survey on drug use and health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2. U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of abuse: a DEA resource guide, 2017 edition. Washington, DC: Drug Enforcement Administration. 3. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019). The ASAM principles of addiction medicine, sixth edition. Philadelphia, PA: Welters Kluwer.