Side Effects of Meth: Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Crystal Meth
Crystal meth is a common name for an illicitly manufactured, often colorless, and odorless form of d-methamphetamine.1 This synthetic stimulant is a Schedule II controlled substance, which means that it is highly addictive with a high potential for misuse and limited medical use (of pharmaceutical formulations of methamphetamine).2 Among individuals aged 12 and older, 0.9% (or about 2.6 million people) reported using methamphetamine, including crystal meth, in 2020.3
Crystal meth is an exquisitely addictive drug with potent stimulant effects. People often use crystal meth for its relatively long-lasting euphoric high. Typically, individuals smoke or inject crystal meth and experience a high that can last 6-8 hours or more.1
If you, or someone you know, use crystal meth, it is critically important that you understand the risks that come along with this dangerous drug.
The Side Effects of Crystal Meth
Crystal meth use carries tremendous health risks, including the potential for significant drug toxicity and overdose. While methamphetamine can trigger an intense high, it can also have very serious side effects. These side effects include:1
- Rapid heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Increased respiratory rate.
- Elevated body temperature.
- Aggression and violence.
- Cardiovascular issues such as stroke and heart attack.
Side Effects After One Use
In 2020, an estimated 153,000 individuals aged 12 and older tried methamphetamine for the first time.4 While an individual won’t necessarily become addicted to crystal meth after a single use, they may feel the drug’s potently rewarding effects—feeling more awake and energized, less hungry, and with a briskly paced heartbeat and breathing.1,5
However, a few of the aforementioned adverse effects may also occur, on a dose dependent basis, with just a single use—physiological changes like hyperthermia (or increased body temperature) and potentially irregular heartbeat.7 Other risks may be introduced when drugs are mixed, even with a single use. For example, when mixed with alcohol, methamphetamine can mask some of alcohol’s intoxicating effects, which could make continued drinking and, ultimately, alcohol overdose more likely.5
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Harmful Long-Term Effects of Crystal Meth
When used repeatedly for long periods of time, methamphetamine can cause an individual to develop a tolerance to the drug’s pleasurable effects.8 Tolerance means that individuals need to take higher doses, take it more frequently, or change the method in which they ingest it to get the desired effect.8
Other adverse long-term effects of chronic methamphetamine use may include:8
- Stimulant addiction development.
- Changes in brain structure and function.
- Decreased motor skills.
- Verbal learning declines.
- Chronic anxiety.
- Mood disturbances.
- Aggressive or violent behaviors.
- Visual and auditory hallucinations.
- Repetitive movements.
- Memory loss.
- Severe dental problems.
Individuals who abruptly stop taking crystal meth after long-term use and significant stimulant dependence may experience withdrawal symptoms, which may include:8
- Drug cravings.
Dangers and Risks of Long-Term Crystal Meth Use
If an individual continues using crystal meth, they put themselves at risk for a wide variety of physical and mental health issues. Oral effects are often one of the most visible, where a severe pattern of decay may be present.9
Studies indicate that long-term crystal meth use can have serious mental health consequences, and may cause some to develop psychotic features—with symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions—which can last for months or years after an individual stops taking methamphetamine.8
Additionally, methamphetamine misuse increases an individual’s risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and hepatitis B and C. Those who inject the drug put themselves in danger by sharing contaminated needles. Even individuals who ingest crystal meth in other ways may be more likely to engage in unprotected sex and other risky behaviors while intoxicated.10
Methamphetamine use can result in both acute and chronic cardiovascular problems, including hypertension, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), and abnormal cardiac rhythm.11 Methamphetamine is a potent vasoconstrictor that can result in coronary artery spasm (a temporary tightening of the muscles in one of the arteries that sends blood to the heart), myocardial ischemia (obstructed blood flow to the heart by partial or complete blockage of a coronary artery), and heart attack.11 In addition to these vasoconstricting effects, chronic methamphetamine use may significantly worsen atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (when blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body become thick and stiff), which can compound the risk of future, potentially devastating cardiovascular events.11
With long-term use of methamphetamine, the sustained activation of the sympathetic nervous system that underlies some of the characteristic cardiovascular changes may also increase the risk of stroke.12
Chronic methamphetamine use can result in certain structural and functional brain changes, which could negatively impact an individual’s memory, emotions, and decision-making abilities.8 These types of brain changes may explain why methamphetamine addiction is difficult to treat and why relapse risks are so high in early treatment and recovery.8
The good news is that it’s never too late to stop. Studies suggest that some of the brain changes may be partially reversible with abstinence.8 One study found that some of the methamphetamine-associated neurobiological effects returned to normal after a year or more of abstinence.8 A similar study looked at brain images and found neurons responsible for motor and verbal memories recovered after 14 months of abstinence.8
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