General Health Concerns

Methamphetamine has become an increasingly popular drug since the 1990's when new methods of production resulted in higher percentages of d-methamphetamine, a more psychogenic isomer of the drug. The new manufacturing techniques also made clandestine manufacture of the drug easy, to the point that it could be manufactured by most anyone willing to follow directions. Manufacturing and use of the drug skyrocketed in the 1990's on the west coast and then began a move eastward after the turn of the century.

The Health Concerns section will address:

  • Methods of Use
  • Smoking
  • General Effects
  • Meth and the Brain

Also learn more about the effects of meth in:

Methods of Use: Methamphetamine is a drug that can be taken in a multitude of ways. The drug can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested with all methods resulting in a significant amount of the drug being introduced into the body. In areas of high surface concentration, the drug can actually be absorbed through intact skin. The fastest way to get the drug into the body is through injection. This is also the method that reportedly results in the greatest and most instantaneous affect. Smoking is the method most used and a method that, short of injection, can result in the quickest and best effect. Ingestion and snorting generally result in lower absorption of the drug.

Smoking: The act of smoking methamphetamine does not actually consist of setting the drug on fire, but rather consists of heating the drug above the vapor point so that the vapor can be inhaled. This is possible because the methamphetamine hydrochloride does not decompose when heated. The vapor that is not inhaled into the lungs will normally be released into the room and cause general methamphetamine contamination, even though an actual "meth lab" did not exist. The amount of methamphetamine contamination generated will depend upon the amount "smoked" and the conditions at the time of "smoking". Researchers at National Jewish Medical Center have characterized the "vapor" and suggested resulting building contamination levels for several levels of smoking.(1)

General Effects : Methamphetamine is a drug that creates an affect similar to cocaine in the nervous system but the "high" lasts for as long as 12 hours while the affect from cocaine only lasts approximately 90 minutes. Methamphetamine is normally smoked in an amount of approximately 100 mg per time but the dosage used may be higher in chronic users.(2) A chronic user may take "hits" off of the pipe as much as every 30 minutes and may consume between 700 to 1000 mg of the drug over a period of one day.(3) Individuals bingeing on the drug (called tweaking) may use as much as 2- 4 grams of methamphetamine over the use period, which may last for 1- 3 days.

Meth and the Brain: As mentioned previously, there are two forms of methamphetamine, l-methamphetamine and d-methamphetamine. The d-meth form has a biological potency that is 5- 10 times greater than that of the l-meth. The primary affect of methamphetamine is at the point of the norepinephrine system in the peripheral nervous system and the dopamine system in the central nervous system. In both cases, the methamphetamine causes the release of these neurotransmitters and blocks their re-uptake back into the nerve terminal. The primary site is the dopamine transporter in the central nervous system. As the amounts of the neurotransmitter are depleted, the reactions to additional methamphetamine are reduced and short-term tolerance can occur.(3) Some research has documented an alteration of the dopamine system suggesting that there may be a reduced dopamine synthesis capacity in the central nervous system. PET scans have shown degreased activity in the brains of individuals using methamphetamine.

Treatment: To learn more about where to seek treatment for meth addiction, click here.