Methamphetamine is a controlled, stimulant drug that is available legally in prescription form. This drug is commonly abused by those looking for a high and the ability to stay awake for long periods of time. The addictive nature of this drug, along with its potentially harmful side effects, makes methamphetamine a dangerous substance that should never be used without the direction of a doctor.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a drug that belongs to a psychostimulant class of compounds related to amphetamine. It stimulates the central nervous system and alters the mood and thinking of the user. There are two forms of the drug, dextromethamphetamine, and levomethamphetamine. The latter is an over the counter decongestant, and the former is a controlled substance. In its prescribed form, or illegal form depending on how it is obtained, the name methamphetamine refers to the dextro- form. As a prescription drug, methamphetamine is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, and more rarely obesity, narcolepsy, and cases of depression that do not respond to other medications. Methamphetamine causes alertness, increased focus and concentration, and energy at low doses. In higher doses, it produces mania and euphoria as well as increased self-esteem and libido.

Where does it come from?

Methamphetamine is a drug that is synthesized in laboratories. It was first created in the late 1800s as a derivative of amphetamine, another synthetic compound. For many years, methamphetamine was used for medical reasons and by the military. Because of the high potential for abuse, it became a controlled substance in the United States in 1970. Brand names of prescription methamphetamine are Desoxyn and Desoxyn Gradumet. Much of the methamphetamine available on the current illicit market comes from illegal labs, called meth labs. These labs make the news because they are prone to explosions when the process of making the drug is done incorrectly. Street names for methamphetamine include speed, meth, and crank. In a form that can be smoked, it is called crystal, crystal meth, ice, crank, glass, and fire.

How is it used?

Methamphetamine is most commonly taken orally as a pill or tablet. However, the pill can be crushed and the resulting powder snorted so that it can be absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes. When the powder is dissolved, it can be injected directly into the bloodstream through a vein. The crystallized form of the drug can also be heated and then smoked. Someone who smokes methamphetamine may be called a speed freak. Injecting or smoking is often done to produce a quicker and more intense high, although it wears off sooner than the high produced by taking it in pill form.

What are the signs of methamphetamine addiction?

Methamphetamine is habit-forming, which means that anyone abusing it can become addicted. Addiction to methamphetamine is very serious. It causes severe detrimental health effects and is difficult to overcome. Here are some signs of addiction to look out for:

  • Unusual changes in behavior, relationships, or finances
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Dry mouth
  • Scabs and sores on the face and in the mouth from scratching and biting
  • Unpleasant body odor
  • Loss of memory
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations and violent or aggressive behavior

What are the consequences of methamphetamine use?

Even when used correctly under the direction of a physician, methamphetamine can cause side effects including headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, diarrhea or constipation, insomnia, loss of appetite and resulting weight loss, and loss of interest in sex. In some people, methamphetamine may cause an allergic reaction. This causes difficulty breathing which may be fatal if not treated immediately. In the short term, abuse of methamphetamine produces paranoia, irritability, heavy sweating, acne, headaches, depression, anxiety, dry mouth, bad breath, nausea and vomiting, increased blood pressure, heavy breathing, and unpredictable behavior. Over the long term, more effects may be seen, such as tooth decay, psychotic behavior, suicidal thoughts, liver and kidney damage, strokes, brain damage, high blood pressure, and death. Addiction to methamphetamine is very serious and can lead to all of the possible adverse, long-term effects of use. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms may occur when an abuser tries to stop using. These include mostly fatigue, increased appetite, and depression. These symptoms themselves are not dangerous, but they typically make it nearly impossible for an abuser to stop using methamphetamine.

When to help

As soon as you are aware that someone is misusing methamphetamine, it is time to help. Some of the dangerous side effects can set in very early and cause damage. Addiction is also quick to set in. Seek emergency help if you see troubling signs in someone using methamphetamine, such as trouble breathing, a fast heartbeat, swelling in the mouth or face, light-headedness, hallucinations and strange behaviors, tics, chest pain, confusion and anxiety, or seizure.

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