Methamphetamine, or meth for short, is a Schedule II controlled substance, per the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the United States. Methamphetamine is in one FDA-approved and legal product, Desoxyn, but is mostly synthesized in illegal laboratories and abused for the “high” it can produce. Crystal meth, also called ice or Tina, looks like glass or small crystal rocks that are usually clear or shiny blue in color. It is a crystallized version of regular meth that may be made into a pill or powder.
Crystal meth is often smoked, but may also be melted down and injected. The half-life of crystal meth is about 11 hours, the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) publishes. While the burst of euphoria may be rather instantaneous, the effects of the drug may last several hours. In 2013, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) published that 1.4 million American adults (aged 12 and older) were classified as current users of a stimulant drug like methamphetamine.
Crystal meth is generally considered to be addictive, possibly due to the euphoria its abuse can create and the inherent and natural desire to repeat things that make individuals feel good. Drug addiction treatment programs can help address cravings, reduce withdrawal side effects, and decrease potential episodes of relapse; relapse rates may be as high as 90 percent for individuals addicted to crystal meth, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). A comprehensive addiction treatment can help give people the tools and coping mechanisms needed to build a strong foundation for recovery from crystal meth abuse and dependence.
The Brain on Meth
Meth is believed to increase pleasure and create its high by enhancing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger in the brain, that is involved in pleasure sensations and what makes people happy. Constant artificial stimulation of this neurotransmitter may actually alter the brain’s natural production of it and make it harder to then feel pleasure with the drug.
When something makes someone feel good, dopamine levels increase; as a result, individuals are conditioned to repeat the behavior that created that effect. Over time, a reward pathway may be built, and meth may circumvent natural reward circuitry in the brain, creating a sort of shortcut to pleasure. Motivation and impulse control are also affected, as it may become more difficult to experience the same levels of pleasure or normal brain functioning without the drug after regular use of crystal meth. An urge to want to feel good may encourage someone to continue taking crystal meth, which may cause a chemical dependency on the drug and drug cravings. The more, and longer, a person uses meth, the more pronounced the dependency and drug cravings may be. NIDA published a study showing a decrease in dopamine binding to its receptors in the brains of individuals addicted to meth, as viewed through brain imaging technology.
Meth has been linked to possible brain damage and a decrease in cognitive functions, like impaired memory and learning abilities. One study published by the Washington Times even reported Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms caused by extreme meth use. Parkinson’s is a disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) that affects movement, causing muscle rigidity and tremors, and it may be caused by a depletion of dopamine in the brain. Another review in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology reported details that may contradict the belief that brain damage occurs in those abusing meth, although clinical addiction may still impair an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.
Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain indicated in part by the inability to control drug use, and it is generally believed to involve the reward, motivation, emotional regulation, and decision-making parts of the brain. When crystal meth’s effects wear off, an individual may feel extremely fatigued, rundown, and suffer a “crash.” Someone who is addicted to meth is also likely to battle withdrawal symptoms when coming down from a meth high as the drug leaves the body. Meth withdrawal may be emotionally intense, and depression, anxiety, nightmares, and suicidal thoughts may be common. The crash is often seen as directly opposing the euphoria and energy produced by the drug’s high.