Crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine–a substance that is widely abused throughout the country. Its widespread illicit production dwarfs that of its pharmaceutical counterpart – marketed as Desoxyn – a stimulant medication with very limited clinical application.
Methamphetamine is a white powder that can be used orally, snorted, smoked, or injected. Crystal meth appears as white or cloudy chunks that resemble broken glass. This form of the substance is most often smoked, but can also be ground to a finer powder for insufflation or injectable routes.
Manufacturing methods vary, but most illicit methamphetamine is created by a process which combines amphetamine and/or amphetamine derivatives with various other chemicals to result in a relatively inexpensive to produce, yet potent final product. The majority of methamphetamine is manufactured and distributed illegally in the US and sold at a low cost. Crystal meth is often manufactured in home labs using rudimentary (and very dangerous) methods.
Regardless of the manufacturing process, the drug is known for its high potency and strong propensity to lead users towards addiction.
Effects of Crystal Meth
Because crystal meth is a stimulant, it speeds up the various processes throughout the body and brain. The “high” resulting from usage can elicit:
- Feelings of euphoria.
- Increased energy.
- Increased focus.
- Diminished need for sleep.
Like with other addictive substances, the negative effects quickly begin to outweigh the positives. The unwanted effects of crystal meth include:
- Unhealthy weight loss.
- Inability to sleep.
- Paranoia, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.
- Changes in brain signaling.
- Cardiovascular disturbances.
- Problems with memory and cognition.
As use continues and escalates, the negative impacts become more extreme and more damaging. For example, crystal meth addicts frequently suffer from a condition known as meth mouth–where use directly and indirectly leads to the teeth becoming damaged, cracked, and decayed. Additionally, weight loss can be so extreme it leads to malnutrition and organ damage.
Effects of crystal meth extend beyond the individual abusing the drug to other people around them. Those that choose to manufacture the substance in their home put those with whom they live at extreme risk. The chemicals and byproducts of production can harm or kill others in the home immediately (e.g., explosion) or over time (e.g., chronic exposure to toxins).
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Once used, traces of crystal meth can stay in the body for a long period of time. The high from the drug can last for more than 12 hours. During this period of time, you may notice signs and symptoms that include:
- Different activity levels and sleep/wake schedule.
- Changing relationships marked by more conflict with established relationships. Often someone high on crystal meth will be aggressive or interrupt others in conversations.
- Problems with money / inability to pay bills.
- Possible problems with the law.
- New interests and activities or less interest in previous activities.
- Needing more of the substance to create the same high–a phenomenon known as tolerance.
Someone addicted to crystal meth will continue using even when they experience negative life changes. Those struggling with their addiction may be unable to quit using even if they desire to stop.
Stages of Use
People using crystal meth often follow a pattern of use that can be described as “binge and crash”. They will use large amounts of the substance continuously over hours or days without eating or sleeping. When there is no more money or energy to acquire more, the user will sleep for extended periods being drained of energy.
Stages of use include:
- The rush – Lasting from 5 to 30 minutes with extreme euphoria and positive feelings.
- The high – Lasting from 4 to 16 hours.
- The binge – Using until no further high can be attained, or until all amounts of the drug is consumed.
- Tweaking – The response to the inability to continue the high. While tweaking, the user may:
- Become violent and physically aggressive.
- Lose touch with reality.
- Experience visual and tactile hallucinations–e.g., that bugs are crawling on them, which may then lead to scratches and self-harm.
- The crash – May present as the body shutting down and sleeping. When awake, the user will feel drained and unhappy, leading to desire for more meth.
- Withdrawal – Some substances begin to leave the body immediately, but since meth stays active for so long, it can take days or weeks for full withdrawal symptoms to present.
Like many drugs of abuse, in the case of crystal meth, addiction is highly interconnected with physical dependence.
Dependence means that the body becomes used to the drug so much so that it functions or is perceived to function differently without it. Because of the dependence, the body will crave the substance in order to feel and operate normally. When use is ended, the user may experience:
- Fatigue with extended periods of sleep.
- A potentially profoundly depressed mood.
- Feeling confused or disorganized.
- Increased irritability.
It will be important to evaluate for the stage or severity of crystal meth use because that information will help to shape effective treatment. Medically-assisted detox will not be always be offered for meth abuse treatment because the immediate consequences of ending use are not dangerous. Most recovering methamphetamine addicts will only require sleep, food, and water in a drug-free environment at the onset, though someone that is receiving treatment while tweaking or experiencing severe psychological repercussions may benefit from inpatient services.
The best treatment options will acknowledge and attempt to manage the potential impact of protracted withdrawal symptoms that may persist long after use has ended. The person in recovery will do well to receive ongoing, long-term treatment that incorporates aspects of:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Contingency managemen (CM).
- Family education and therapy.
- Drug testing.
- Help through support groups.
- Methamphetamine: Research Report Series. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2015, from https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/methrrs.pdf
- Methamphetamine. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2015, from http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/meth.pdf#search=methamphetamine
- What is Crystal Meth? (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2015, from http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth.html