Medically Reviewed

How Is Meth Used? Dangers of Snorting, Smoking, or Injecting Meth

3 min read · 6 sections
Meth can be swallowed, smoked, snorted, or injected, with each route of administration carrying its own set of risks, which we will discuss below.1

What Is Meth (Methamphetamine)?

Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as the illicit street drug “meth”, is an extremely addictive central nervous system stimulant. Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II stimulant drug under the Controlled Substances Act, indicating it has a high potential for misuse and dependence.2 However, it’s important to understand that there are different types of methamphetamine.

Legal methamphetamine is FDA approved for ADHD and is prescribed under the brand name Desoxyn. Desoxyn is swallowed in prescription pill form. It is important to note that this is not the most common prescription for ADHD and is taken in much lower doses than illicit meth.2

There is meth in its illegal form, made and sold illegally and often misused as a recreational drug. This is the form that is smoked, injected and snorted. This illicit form of methamphetamine—sometimes referred to as meth—may have impurities that can increase the toxicity, increasing the potential for undesired side effects or overdose.2 

Illicit methamphetamine is usually sold in the form of an odorless white powder (commonly known as speed which is the least potent form of meth and is often mixed with other substances such as glucose) or shards that resemble pieces of glass (crystal meth which is the most potent form of meth).2 

Methamphetamine may cause:3,4 

  • Increased wakefulness.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure. 
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Heightened body temperature. 
  • Convulsions.
  • Overdose.

Meth can be dangerous no matter how it is used; however, different routes of administration carry unique risks.

Dangers of Snorting Meth

When meth is snorted, it is absorbed through the blood vessels in the nasal passages. Snorting stimulants may cause:5

  • Congestion.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Deterioration of nasal mucosa.
  • Loss of the sense of smell.
  • Perforation and necrotic tissue in the septum.

Snorting and taking meth orally does not yield the same intense rush elicited by smoking or injecting it.1

Dangers of Smoking Meth

Smoking meth leads to more rapid absorption into the bloodstream than snorting it, creating a intense euphoric rush, which fades very quickly.1 As a result, smoking meth may cause recreational use to progress into misuse because of the rapid euphoria followed sudden lows. This can lead to a stimulant use disorder in a shorter amount of time compared to snorting or oral use because of the powerful, fleeting rush of pleasure that encourages people to repeat the experience over and over.6

Smoking methamphetamine may cause barotrauma from excessive coughing, which is the increased pressure in the chest cavity. This can cause the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs to rupture and release air into the chest cavity, which can make it difficult to breath and collapse the lung. Smoking meth can damage the alveoli and blood vessels, which can cause someone to cough up blood.5 

Inhalation of methamphetamine vapors may also involve the introduction of contaminants into the lungs. The resulting allergic reactions or inflammatory responses may involve:5

  • Pulmonary granulomatosis (inflammation of the blood vessels in the lungs). This can result in shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, etc. 
  • Excessive bronchial reactivity (overly sensitive to airway-narrowing stimuli) or bronchospasm (tightening airways in the lungs). This can result in trouble breathing or feeling like your throat is closing up. 
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (allergic inflammation of the alveoli). This can result in short term flu-like symptoms. 

Dangers of Injecting Meth

Injecting meth produces an immediate high and feelings of euphoria when it enters the bloodstream.1 Like smoking, injection drug use may quicken the progression of stimulant use disorder.6

When someone injects meth, they are at an of contracting blood-borne infections and diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C, due to the practice of sharing needles.7 People that use drugs via injection also risk:8

  • Abscesses.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in deep veins of the body). 
  • Infective endocarditis (inflammation in the heart chambers and valves).9

Signs of a Meth Addiction

Healthcare providers often refer to criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) to determine whether a person has a stimulant use disorder, the clinical term for meth addiction.10

Meeting 2 or more of the following criteria within 12 months could result in a medical professional diagnosing a patient with a stimulant use disorder:10

  1. Consuming meth in larger amounts or for a longer amount of time than intended.
  2. Making multiple attempts to regulate or stop meth use or expressing a persistent desire to quit or reduce use.
  3. Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of substance use.
  4. Experiencing cravings for meth.
  5. Meth use causes an inability to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continuing to use the substance despite it causing significant social or interpersonal problems.
  7. Gives up recreational, social, or occupational activities because of substance use.
  8. Recurrently uses the substance in physically unsafe environments.
  9. Persistently uses the substance despite knowing that it may cause or exacerbate physical or psychological problems.
  10. Has developed tolerance to the substance, requiring increasingly higher doses of it to achieve the desired effect; symptom tolerance typically varies by person.
  11. Either experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to reduce use or quit or using meth to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Finding Treatment for Meth Addiction

Finding support for those grappling with meth addiction is crucial. Although no FDA-approved medications target stimulant addiction,5 behavioral therapies— such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management (CM), and 12-Step facilitation therapy—are effective in treating stimulant use disorders. Additionally, peer support programs can foster connection with peers, providing shared understanding and a robust sober network. By addressing the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction, healing from SUDs is possible.5,11,12

Admissions navigators at American Addiction Centers (AAC) can also be helpful, offering guidance to resources and information that can help you start your recovery journey. Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to explain treatment options that are available nationwide. You don’t have to do this alone. Call AAC today at .

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