Over the past 30 years, methamphetamine production and abuse exploded across the country. California was once the epicenter of meth production in the United States, but rural areas in the South and Midwest have become major meth manufacturers. In fact, many rural counties consider meth use and production their number one drug problem. Despite public health programs to reduce meth use, the substance remains in high demand.
Methamphetamine is a drug that acts as a stimulant of the central nervous system. A structural variant of the chemical is sold over-the-counter as a nasal decongestant, although this version cannot pass into the brain to produce a high. One of the reasons the drug is so popular is that its production is relatively straightforward, involving many commercially available components. However, manufacturing meth requires the use of flammable and toxic substances, which frequently cause explosions during production.
How Does Methamphetamine Affect the Brain?
Many substances cannot cross into the brain because of the blood-brain barrier, which keeps toxins out. However, methamphetamine is fat-soluble, meaning that it easily passes into the brain to exert its effects. The major effect of methamphetamine in the brain is to stimulate the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, meaning that it affects chemical signaling between brain cells. This brain chemical is involved in the neural reward system, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and production of movement.
When meth enters the brain, it causes neurons to release dopamine and prevents excess dopamine from being recycled. This stimulates brain cells in major reward centers, creating an intense high or feeling of euphoria. Because meth affects the brain’s reward centers, it is highly addictive. Drug users crave more and more of the substance to get the same high. Over time, the brain becomes rewired and causes addiction, which is characterized by incessant drug-seeking behaviors. Chronic methamphetamine use can cause major changes in the structure and function of brain areas associated with memory and emotional processing.
Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Methamphetamine users commonly take the drug by smoking, injecting, or snorting it. No matter what the route of entry, methamphetamine causes severe physical and mental side effects. Trying meth even once can have profound effects on an individual’s health.
Because methamphetamine stimulates the central nervous system, it leads to manic levels of physical activity, decreased appetite, increased wakefulness and insomnia, rapid breathing, heart rate variability, high blood pressure, and high body temperature. These side effects are often moderate to severe, significantly affecting an individual’s day-to-day life. Meth users may go days without eating or sleeping because of the drug’s effects.
Over time, methamphetamine use ravages a person’s body.
Common effects include:
- extreme weight loss
- major tooth decay and tooth loss (often called “meth mouth”)
- violent behavior
- mental fogginess or confusion
- severe anxiety
- extreme mood swings
Meth use makes it increasingly difficult for a person to carry on normal social relationships with family and friends. Addicted individuals often become socially isolated or only interact with other methamphetamine users. Children who grow up in the homes of meth users are frequently abused or neglected.
Because methamphetamine has such profound effects on the brain, it permanently affects mental abilities. Chronic users may experience psychotic symptoms such as auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. For example, they may feel as though bugs are crawling under their skin, causing scratching and physical harm to remove the perceived threat. Meth use also reduces learning ability, short- and long-term memory, and the ability to regulate emotions.
Deadly Effects of Methamphetamine
Even short-term use of methamphetamine can be deadly. Meth use permanently damages an individual’s cardiovascular system, leading to fatal heart attacks or strokes. Using the drug also causes severe malnutrition and weight loss that leaves a person vulnerable to deadly infections. Over time, most of the body’s organ systems are compromised, including the liver, kidneys, and lungs. People who inject meth often die from HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and other fatal blood-borne illnesses.
While in the throes of a meth-induced high, users often engage in violent or risky behaviors that end in death. Methamphetamine users have wandered into the cold and died of hypothermia, gotten in fatal fights, and jumped off of tall buildings because of drug-induced thoughts or behaviors. Risky sexual behaviors may lead to deadly sexually transmitted diseases.
We Can Help
There is no safe amount of meth to use. After just one use of this powerful drug, many individuals experience signs of addiction. Just a few weeks or months of meth use can profoundly change the way a person looks, thinks, and behaves. Among all of the drugs of abuse, methamphetamine addiction is often the most difficult to overcome. It is also the most deadly. Anyone suffering from methamphetamine addiction must immediately seek help from a rehabilitation facility. Best Drug Rehabilitation can help you choose the right facility. Contact us today if you or a loved one are struggling with a meth addiction.