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Article Summary

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive psychostimulant drug that stimulates the central nervous system.


Methamphetamine is classifed as a Schedule II substance by the Controlled Substance Act (1970). By definition, Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse which may lead to dependence, and also have limited accepted medical uses in the United States.

Without a prescription, it is illegal to buy, sell, or possess methamphetamine.

Street Names

The powder form of methamphetamine is also known as "speed" or "chalk" and, when prepared for smoking, is referred to as "crystal" or "ice." It is commonly consumed orally, by snorting, by smoking, or by injection.

Methamphetamine is produced in large laboratories in Mexico, the United States, and Asia. It is also produced in small home laboratories from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (found in over-the-counter medications).

Methamphetamine "cooking" in home labs is a very dangerous process involving dangerous chemicals and releasing noxious fumes. Toxic waste produced during the process typically are not properly disposed and can cost thousands of dollars to clean up.

Effects on the Body

Methamphetamine use results in stimulation of the central nervous system. It typically causes users to feel an initial "rush" or "high" followed by a crash. It produces a variety of effects, including euphoria, increased alertness and energy, and decreased appetite and desire for sleep.

Physiologically, the user's heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing rate go up. Users may experience irregular heartbeat, increased libido, dialated pupils, and agitation.

Negative effects of abuse include irritability, anxiety, anorexia, insomnia, tremors, cardiovascular problems, dental problems, and sometimes death.

Psychological symptoms resemble those of schizophrenia and include paranoia, aggression, panic, auditory and visual hallucinations, and repetitive behavior patterns. Methamphetamine may also impair people's judgement and lead them to engage in unsafe behaviors.

Effects on the Brain

Methamphetamine use affects the brain by causing an increase in the release of certain brain chemicals called "neurotransmitters." Specifically, methamphetamine use causes brain cells to release more dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters which are partially responsible for users' feelings of euphoria and the high addictive potential of methamphetamine.

Release of large amounts of these chemicals have been shown to decrease the size of the ends of brain cells (terminals), damaging the ability of the cells to transmit "information" to one another. This results in brain damage, some of which may be irreversible.


Methamphetamine users can develop tolerance to the drug, meaning they need larger amounts to get the effects they desire. Severe dental problems, including rapid tooth decay and loss, are one frequent consequence of methamphetamine addiction, known as "meth mouth." Dentists think this results from dry mouth (caused by the drug) in combination with poor oral hygiene, drinking sugary beverages, and teeth-grinding.

Methamphetamine may also cause users to feel like they have bugs crawling under their skin, causing them to obsessively pick and scratch their skin for relief. "Tweaking" is the term used to describe users who do not sleep for days and become increasingly irritable and paranoid.


Users attempting to quit may experience withdrawal symptoms including fatigue, paranoia, depression, nausea, shaking, anxiety, aggression, and craving for the drug. Users report feeling "stupid" or "dull" after quitting, and relapse is common.

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications available to help users quit methamphetamine.

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