Smoking Meth: Side Effects and Dangers
What Are the Effects of Smoking Meth?
Smoking meth is more likely to cause addiction than other forms of use due to how fast the drug reaches the brain. It can also lead to lung infection and pulmonary injury as well as gum disease and tooth decay. Other effects of meth include skin sores, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, and psychosis.
Methamphetamine, or meth, is an extremely addictive and potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that can produce intense euphoria, decreased appetite, and increased energy and attention.1 It is commonly encountered on the illicit drug market as a white and odorless crystal powder and is typically used in a “binge-and-crash” method in which the user takes the drug repeatedly each time the euphoria and other desired effects begin to wear off.2,3
Pharmaceutical-grade methamphetamine (Desoxyn) has historically seen very limited clinical applicability in the management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as a short-term adjunct to promote weight-loss in dangerously overweight individuals, but the overwhelming majority of all methamphetamine is obtained and abused illegally in order to get high.2
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As a medicinal agent, methamphetamine is a Schedule II drug, which means that is highly controlled because it has a high potential for abuse.2 When abused, this substance can have detrimental consequences on a person’s physical and mental health. Users can take the stimulant in a number of different ways, such as smoking, snorting, or injecting it.2 When meth is smoked, it involves heating of the crystalline substance, with the resulting vapor and smoke then inhaled through a pipe.
Smoking meth repeatedly can lead to increased tolerance, physical and psychological dependence, and addiction. Repeated exposure to this harmful substance can create severe changes in brain structure and functioning as well, which may chronically impact cognition and emotions.2
- More than 3% of teens between 8th and 12th grade have tried methamphetamine in their lifetime.4
- As of 2017, approximately 10,500 (15%) of the 70,000 overdose-related deaths in the United States involved methamphetamine use.5
- Nearly one million people meet criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017; however, fewer people are seeking help, with treatment rates for meth addiction declining by 28% from 2005 to 2015.5
Chronic methamphetamine use can severely impact both the body and mind of the user. An addiction to methamphetamine causes severe impairment and distress not only in the user’s life but to those around him or her as well. Some of the physical consequences of meth use include: 6,7,8
- Problems with motor skills.
- Weight loss.
- Heart palpitations.
- Heart attack.
- Increased risk of HIV due to risky sexual practices.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Injuries due to violent behavior.
- Skin sores.
Abusing meth long term can also have mental effects, such as:2,7
- Mood disturbances.
- Violent behaviors.
- Cognitive deficits.
- Memory loss.
- Delusions, such as thinking insects are crawling under the skin.
Even with relatively short-term but repeated use, it is likely that a person will develop a physical dependence on the drug. If you suddenly stop smoking meth after becoming dependent, you may experience several unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including:6
- The inability to feel pleasure.
- Increased risk of suicide.
- Slow movements and thoughts.
- Slow heart rate.
- Increased appetite.
ADHD medication diversion
There are several characteristic health outcomes associated specifically with smoking methamphetamine. The Office of National Drug Control Policy explains that you are more likely to become addicted to meth if you smoke it than if you use it in other forms.9 This is due to the speed at which the meth reaches your brain when you smoke the drug, inducing intense pleasure immediately. This rapid method of drug delivery can also boost the negative health effects from the drug.
Another consequence specific to smoking meth is its effect on oral health, called “meth mouth.” Meth mouth typically presents with gum disease, mouth sores, and tooth decay.7 The dental complications stem from the acidic nature of methamphetamine causing damage to enamel and to oral mucous membranes. The problem is exacerbated by teeth grinding while intoxicated, in addition to poor dental hygiene and eating habits.
Furthermore, research has revealed that inhaling meth increases the chances of pulmonary injury as well as contracting a life-threatening lung infection in mice.10,11 Although human studies haven’t been performed, this preliminary research reveals the potentially toxic qualities of smoking meth.
In addition to harming your health, the societal and environmental consequences resulting from the illicit production and consumption of methamphetamine are far-reaching. The Drug Enforcement Administration explains that meth labs are full of dangerous and harmful chemicals that are often dumped, which has disastrous consequences on the environment, people in the surrounding area, and health-care costs.12 These labs are also in danger of exploding or catching on fire, which can damage surrounding homes and kill innocent people as well.
Meth and Pregnancy
The few studies that have been done in cases of women using meth while pregnant suggest the following risks for the baby and the developing child:13, 14
- Increased risk of premature delivery
- Separation of the placenta from uterine wall
- Small birth size
- Cardiac and neural abnormalities
- Increased anxiety and depression in childhood
- Poor attention spans
- Increased aggression
Children who have had prenatal exposure to methamphetamine benefit from early treatment intervention for these potential behavioral and emotional problems.14 If you are abusing meth while pregnant, there are options available to help you quit and prevent further damage to your unborn baby.
There are many different treatment options for those suffering from an addiction to methamphetamine. There is no one-size-fits-all recovery program; it depends on what your personal needs and preferences are.
These types of treatment programs are most commonly available:
- Inpatient treatment: You are required to reside at the facility for the duration of your treatment program, which can last anywhere from 30 to 90 days, and sometimes longer if necessary. You will receive a number of services, such as intake evaluation, individual therapy, group counseling, medical and psychiatric care, and aftercare planning.
- Dual diagnosis: Some treatment centers specialize in treating co-occurring disorders, such as an addiction to meth and a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. If you think that you have a psychiatric problem, it’s best that you seek out a dual diagnosis center that can address both of your conditions simultaneously.
- Outpatient treatment: This recovery program allows you to live at home while receiving meth addiction treatment when it works best for you so that you don’t have to abandon your work, home, or school responsibilities. Outpatient treatment might not be appropriate in all cases—for example, individuals with relatively severe addictions—since it lacks the fully immersive structure that inpatient treatment does.
- Group counseling: A mental health professional will facilitate a therapy session that focuses on developing sober social skills and uses coping strategies in group settings.
- Individual therapy: You will meet with a therapist one-on-one to address the underlying issues that influence your methamphetamine addiction. You will also learn about and build upon coping skills that can be used in stressful or triggering situations.
- 12-step programs: Fellowships, such as Crystal Meth Anonymous, provide members with support and encouragement as they work through the 12 steps to recovery. These programs are free to join; the only requirement is that you want to live a substance-free life.
One common treatment program used for meth addiction is the Matrix Model.15 The therapists act as both a teacher and a coach, and the focus is on empowerment through positive self-image and confidence. The program includes: 15
- Self-help programs.
- Drug education.
- Group counseling.
- Social support groups.
- Family education.
- Family therapy.
- Relapse analysis.
- Relapse prevention.
- Urine tests.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine: What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine abuse?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: What is methamphetamine?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine: How is methamphetamine abused?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2019). Methamphetamine (Meth).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine: What is the scope of methamphetamine abuse in the United States?
- American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine: What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?
- Fisher, D.G., Reynolds, G.L., Napper, L.E. (2010). Use of crystal methamphetamine, Viagra, and sexual behavior. Curr Opin Infect Dis, 23(1), 53-56.
- Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2016). Methamphetamine and New Psychoactive Substances.
- Wells, S. M., Buford, M. C., Braseth, S. N., Hutchison, J. D., Holian, A. (2008). Acute Inhalation Exposure to Vaporized Methamphetamine Causes Lung Injury in Mice. Inhal Toxicol, 20(9), 829-838.
- Patel, D., Desai, G.M., Frases, S., Cordero, R.J.B., DeLeon-Rodriguez, C.M., Eugenin, E.A., Nosanchuk, J.D., & Martinez, L.R. (2013). Methamphetamine Enhances Cryptococcus neoformans Pulmonary Infection and Dissemination to the Brain. MBio: American Society for Microbiology, 4(4).
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Methamphetamine: A Growing Domestic Threat.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine: What are the risks of methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Prenatal Methamphetamine Exposure Linked with Problems.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): The Matrix Model (Stimulants)