Crystal methamphetamine, or crystal meth, produces an extreme euphoria that once experienced can never be reproduced. Users find the effects so intensely pleasurable that they spend their time trying to recreate that first high. However, the brain has already made slight changes after the first use of crystal meth. These changes in the reward center of the brain prevent a person from feeling pleasurable experiences as intensely. With continued use of crystal meth, pleasurable activities will lose their effect on the brain, making life experiences feel dull, gray, and empty.
Crystal Meth Use in the United States
Overall, the prevalence of crystal meth use in the United States has fallen. This is due to a decrease in quality of the product and an increase in price. According to statistics, crystal meth purity levels average at only about 51 percent1. This is because of recent regulations restricting the purchase of crystal methamphetamine ingredients that are found in certain over-the- counter cold medications. Manufacturers of crystal meth no longer have access to large quantities of necessary ingredients, so they are using fillers in the crystal meth so that they can produce the same amounts yet at a higher price. This is causing the overall use rate of crystal meth to go down overall as many people can no longer afford to purchase the drug as much as they used to as well as the fact that they are not getting as high off of the drug due to decrease in purity.
- More than 1 million people use crystal meth each year
- More than 12 million people have tried meth
Crystal Meth Effects
Using crystal meth causes a flood of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes euphoria and sends signals to parts of the brain that include the reward center. Dopamine is naturally released in response to pleasurable activities from eating certain foods to engaging in sexual intercourse. According to research by Frontline on PBS, meth causes 12 times the release of dopamine as any natural activity. This high cannot be replicated by anything in the world, nor can it ever be reached again. Crystal meth has the following effects on the user:
- Sense of euphoria
- Increased energy
- Elevated mood
- Decreased appetite
- Increased feeling of well-being
- Feeling of being desirable
- Increased libido
However, crystal meth users also experience many negative effects of using this drug that include:
- Mood swings
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Feeling like bugs crawling under the skin
Crystal Meth Use and Tolerance
As with other illicit drugs, crystal meth causes changes to the brain during use. The brain tries to compensate for the excess of dopamine by reducing its production of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that naturally cause a person to feel good. This causes meth users to need more of the drug to get a high. As the body becomes accustomed to certain levels of the drug in the body, the user no longer needs to use the drug just to get a high, but to feel “normal.” Higher doses of the drug are now needed to try to get a high. This is called “tolerance.” Increased tolerance and using more of the drug cause a user to come closer to being addicted.
Withdrawal from Crystal Meth Use
As the body becomes adjusted to certain levels of crystal meth, it can cause certain uncomfortable or even painful symptoms when use of the drug is stopped. This is called “withdrawal.” Many individuals continue to use crystal meth just to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal can last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the amount of drug used and the length of time using. Most crystal meth addiction is psychological, so most withdrawal effects are felt in the brain. Withdrawal from crystal meth includes symptoms such as:
- Lack of feeling pleasure
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense cravings
Crystal Meth Addiction
When increased tolerance and avoidance of withdrawal symptoms cause continued use of crystal meth, addiction may result. The brain continues to change the way the memory and reward center interact. Blood vessels constrict decreasing blood flow to some areas of the brain causing brain damage and cell death, especially to areas of the brain that control memory, cognition, learning, and emotion. Once this happens, users of crystal meth can no longer make proper decisions or use common sense effectively. Rational behavior is affected while use continues despite negative consequences that may occur to the user.
Negative Effects of Crystal Meth Use
Not only does using crystal meth destroy and damage parts of the brain, it also causes damage and destruction to other parts of the body including functions, tissues, and organs. The immune system is weakened causing decreased ability to heal itself and increased healing times. The skin develops sores and infections. Kidneys, liver, and lungs become diseased and damaged. Cardiovascular disease develops due to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure caused by meth use. There is an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Meth users may experience sudden death due to interruption of normal heart rhythm. Symptoms of mental illness appear, such as depression, aggressive behavior, paranoia, and hallucinations. The teeth rot, break, and fall out and the face becomes sunken, among other negative effects to the body. These harmful effects to the body are due to crystal methamphetamine ingredients such as drain cleaner, brake fluid, and paint thinner.
On the Streets with Crystal Meth
Crystal meth can be used by smoking, snorting, injecting, swallowing or inserting into the urethra or rectum. It can be found in crystal form, powder, liquid, capsules, or formed into tablets. Although crystal meth crystals are generally clear while the powder is white, color can be affected if it is not pure. When meth is “cut with” or “stepped on” with other ingredients, it affects the purity and color. Crystal meth is referred to by many names including Tina, Ice, Christy, Crystal, Hot Ice, and Quartz.