Five Facts About Crystal Meth You Didn’t Know

With over 1.4 million users in the United States alone, crystal meth is a dangerous and highlycrystal-meth-addiction addictive drug that has rapidly grown in popularity over the past two decades. Crystal meth is easily made from common household ingredients, like drain cleaner and matches, and use of this drug has exploded from being isolated to west coast biker gangs in the 1980s and 1990s to reaching epidemic proportions in every state today. There are many widespread misconceptions about crystal meth use. Here are some facts about crystal meth that you may not know.

1. Crystal Meth is Extremely Addictive

Crystal meth, like all other abused drugs, causes a rush of the brain chemical dopamine when it is taken. Dopamine is the same substance released by the brain in low levels during activities that cause pleasure, like eating sweets and having sex. However, drug use causes a rush of dopamine that is much bigger than a person experiences during any other pleasurable activity. For crystal meth users, this is compounded by the fact that crystal meth causes a dopamine release that is about twelve times larger than even that produced by cocaine. There is an intense wave of pleasure and euphoria that can last up to twelve hours. With repeated use, it takes more and more of the drug to produce the same pleasurable feeling because the brain’s dopamine receptors become accustomed to high levels of dopamine being available. Crystal meth has the added effect of destroying dopamine receptors over time, making it harder and harder for users to feel pleasure or euphoria at all.

Unlike narcotics like cocaine and heroin, crystal meth doesn’t create a physical dependency in which there is pain when the drug is withdrawn. The dependency is completely psychological, but it is very powerful. Rodents that were offered crystal meth continued to consume greater and greater amounts of the drug until it killed them, even forgoing food and other activities, and it is believed that crystal meth has a similar effect on human users.

2. Producing Crystal Meth is Very Dangerous

Producing crystal meth is a dangerous business, even years after production ceases. Crystal meth is made by heating volatile chemicals, and careless overheating, spills, and uncontrolled chemical reactions commonly result in fires and explosions. In fact, up to 15% of meth labs that are discovered by law enforcement are detected as the result of an explosion or a fire. Producing crystal meth also involves storing dangerous chemicals, like anhydrous ammonia, which can cause caustic burns, respiratory problems, blindness, or even death if they come into contact with skin, eyes, or mucus membranes.

A meth lab in a community is difficult to spot before a fire or explosion occurs, and it presents a danger to the entire community. Chemicals used to produce crystal meth cannot be easily removed with ordinary cleaning solutions, and they can remain adhered to flooring materials, walls, and counter tops even after the producers have moved on. Unsuspecting people have bought houses used as meth labs, only to find that the chemicals absorbed into the house’s structural components continue to give off volatile fumes and present explosion risks even years later. In addition, volatile byproducts of cooking meth are often disposed of outdoors and in an unsafe manner, presenting a danger to local children and pets.

3. There are Characteristic Physical Changes That Occur Rapidly in Crystal Meth Users

Crystal meth is one of the few illegal drugs that quickly produces characteristic physical signs. When crystal meth is snorted or injected, it has very harmful effects on the small vessels that supply blood to the skin, hair follicles, and teeth. Meth users often lose weight very quickly as the result of a loss of appetite. They experience rapid aging, as the skin has lost much of its blood supply and cannot heal itself as well as it once did. Acne may appear, and sores take a long time to heal. One of the most prominent physical signs of crystal meth abuse is called “meth mouth.” For reasons that are not fully understood, users tend to lose their teeth abnormally quickly and experience unsightly, often irreparable damage to the teeth that remain.

Abusing crystal meth also has serious health consequences that are harder to see. Meth users often experience an increased heart rate and body temperature, which can lead to stroke. They may not sleep for days at a time, then crash and be unable to function for an equally long time. Liver damage and damage to the immune system are common, and the increase in libido and compromised judgment associated with crystal meth use leave users increasingly vulnerable to sexually transmitted disease. But perhaps the most damaging effect that crystal meth has is on the brain itself: crystal meth causes changes in brain chemistry similar to those seen in Parkinson’s Disease patients, and these changes cannot be reversed even after years of being clean.

4. Crystal Meth is Commonly Found in Other Drugs

Because crystal meth is inexpensive to produce, it is commonly mixed, or “cut,” with other drugs to enhance the effects of these drugs and allow dealers to turn a greater profit. Club drugs are especially popular targets. It is estimated that up to 55% of ecstasy in the United States contains at least some crystal meth. Some dealers produce crystal meth and sell it as other drugs, since there is no way to make sure that the drug user’s buy is the one the dealer claims to be selling. Some users purposely use crystal meth in combination with marijuana, cocaine, or heroin in order to achieve a specific kind of high.

5. Abusing Crystal Meth has Serious Legal Consequences

Since 2005, Federal laws have been in place limiting the amount of certain household items used in methamphetamine production that people can buy at one time. The most widely known of these substances are cough and cold medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Many drug stores also keep lists of purchasers of these medications to limit people from buying the ingredients in low quantities, but over the course of many individual purchases.

In addition to laws regulating the ingredients used to produce crystal meth, the drug itself is considered a Schedule II controlled substance by the DEA, meaning that it has legitimate medical uses, but has a high potential for abuse. Penalties for possession and sale of crystal meth vary from state to state, but in general result in either a felony or misdemeanor on the user’s criminal record. Penalties for possession can vary from 1-3 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Penalties for sale, on the other hand, can carry up to a lifetime prison sentence and a fine of up to $4 million.

Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug that is readily available and gaining popularity in the United States, despite government efforts to curtail its use. Treating crystal meth addiction is a long-term process and requires a good treatment or rehab program, as well as dedication from both the user and his or her family, in order for success to be achieved. If you or someone you know may be battling crystal meth addiction, consider these five facts and seek help before the consequences become too much to bear.

Sources:

  1. Office of Justice Programs
  2. PBS Frontline on How Meth Destroys the Body

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