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The Dangers of Snorting, Smoking, and Injecting Meth

Methamphetamine, also known as meth or crystal meth, is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is often illicitly used for its powerfully rewarding high.1

People often use meth in a “binge and crash” pattern because the high from the drug begins and fades quickly. However, the duration and intensity of the effects depend on how meth is used.2 People use meth in several ways, including smoking, snorting, and injecting after dissolving the powdered drug into a liquid solution.2

No matter how meth is used, all meth use exposes users to various health risks and adverse effects, including the development of a stimulant use disorder, the clinical diagnosis for meth addiction.3

If you or a loved one uses meth, understanding the additional health risks associated with the various meth routes of administration is important. This article will help you learn more about:

  • The effects and risks associated with different routes of administration, including snorting, smoking, and injecting meth.
  • Recognizing potential signs of meth use.
  • How to get help for yourself or a loved one with a stimulant use disorder.

Snorting Methamphetamine

People can snort or inhale the powdered form of meth intranasally.2 When someone snorts meth, the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream through the thin tissues that line the nasal cavity, known as the nasal mucosa. The onset of effects from snorting meth is relatively slower than other routes of use such as smoking and injecting, with effects typically beginning within 3-5 minutes.2

Risks of Snorting Methamphetamine

There are several risks associated with snorting meth, primarily involving issues with the nose and other upper respiratory tract structures. Intranasal use of stimulants, including meth, increases the risk of:3, 4

  • Sinusitis (e.g., inflammation of the sinuses).
  • Irritation and atrophy of delicate nasal tissues.
  • Nose bleeds.
  • Perforated nasal septum (e.g., the midline, mucosal-covered cartilaginous tissue structure between your left and right nasal cavity).
  • Loss of sense of smell.
  • Problems with swallowing.

All meth use exposes users to the risk of developing a stimulant use disorder. In some instances, these stimulant addictions can develop extremely quickly, though relatively more rapidly with intravenous and smoked routes.3

Smoking Methamphetamine

Some illicitly manufactured methamphetamine is referred to as crystal meth—a form of the drug that sometimes resembles glass fragments or blueish-white rocks. Crystal meth can be smoked by heating the drug and inhaling the smoke or vapor into the lungs.1 Smoking crystal meth results in rapid absorption into the bloodstream, which creates an intense rush.2 This rewarding rush can increase the addictive potential of meth because it may make the user want to repeat the experience.2 Smoking meth generally produces a long-lasting high, which can last around 8-12 hours.4

Risks of Smoking Methamphetamine

Smoking crystal meth is associated with several health risks involving the lungs and respiratory tract, including, but not limited to:3, 4, 5

  • Chronic cough.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Inflammation of the lung tissue.
  • Sinusitis (e.g., inflammation of the sinuses).
  • Collapsed or scarred lung.
  • Pulmonary hypertension (e.g., a type of high blood pressure that affects arteries in the heart and lungs).
  • Pulmonary edema (e.g., excess fluid in the lungs).
  • Pneumomediastinum (e.g., air that has escaped into the mediastinum—an anatomical space outside of the lungs).

In addition to respiratory risks, smoking crystal meth is associated with various oral health problems including gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth sores.3

Compared to snorting meth, smoking may be associated with a relatively more rapid progression to severe-level stimulant use disorder, which can develop over the course of a week to months, in some cases.3

Injecting Methamphetamine

As with smoking, injecting meth can lead to an extremely rapid onset of the drug’s effects. Intravenous routes of meth use result in a near-immediate introduction of the drug into the bloodstream. For some, this can create an almost instant feeling of confidence, euphoria, and well-being, which can reinforce the desire to repeat the experience and drive eventually compulsive use of the drug.2

Risks of Injecting Methamphetamine

Injecting meth poses several risks, including illnesses associated with sharing unsterile needles, such as hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDs. Infections from sharing unsterile needles can travel through the circulatory system and cause damage to the organs, including the kidneys, brain, liver, bones, and lungs.4

Other risks of injecting meth can include:3, 4

  • Skin abscess and other soft tissue infections.
  • Severe tissue damage and necrosis.
  • Vein inflammation, scarring, and stiffening.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (e.g., blood clot formation deep within a vein).
  • Endocarditis (e.g., heart valve inflammation).

As with smoking meth, injecting the drug is associated with a rapid progression to severe-level stimulant use disorder, which can develop over a timeframe as brief as a few weeks to months, for some people.3

Recognizing the Signs of Methamphetamine Use

If you’re concerned someone you care about is using meth, recognizing the signs of meth use is important. Regardless of how meth is used, some of the short-term effects of the drug that you may detect include:1

  • Increased physical activity and wakefulness.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Faster breathing.

Violence may sometimes be exhibited in people after long-term meth use, in addition to mental confusion, memory loss, severe dental problems, skin sores from intense itching, and extreme weight loss.1 A person may also experience anxiety, paranoia, and psychotic episodes resembling schizophrenia.3

Over time, a person can become physiologically dependent on meth. When this happens, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly reduce or stop using the drug.3 Potential outwardly noticeable methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms include:1

  • Anxiety.
  • Fatigue.
  • Severe depression.
  • Psychosis.

Getting Help for Yourself or A Loved One

No matter how meth is used, meth use is always dangerous because it can result in harmful effects including a life-threatening overdose.1 People who use meth also expose themselves to the risk of using meth that has been contaminated or “cut” with additives, such as fentanyl, which can greatly increase the risk of fatal overdose.1

Although meth use can have devastating consequences on a person’s life, meth addiction is a treatable condition.1 With professional treatment, you or your loved one can stop the cycle of meth use and start the path to recovery.1

Recovery looks different for everyone but often includes a combination of approaches such as:2, 4, 6

  • Behavioral therapies.
  • Group and individual counseling.
  • Participation in support groups.
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression).
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse.

There are currently no FDA-approved medications for treating addiction to stimulants, so meth addiction is often treated using behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or contingency management.2 These can help patients address the underlying issues that contribute to addiction and help them stay motivated to stop using meth and make other positive life changes.1

Treatment is available in different settings and might start with medical detox to help patients stay as comfortable and safe as possible as they go through withdrawal, followed by inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab.4, 6 Treatment can address co-occurring mental or physical health conditions if needed.6

If you or a loved one are struggling with meth use, don’t wait to get help. Contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) at to speak to a caring admissions navigator about your rehab options.


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