Dangers of Meth
What are the immediate (short-term) dangers of meth?
As a powerful stimulant, meth, even in small doses, can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. A brief, intense sensation, or rush, is reported by those who smoke or inject meth. Oral ingestion or snorting produces a long-lasting high instead of a rush, which reportedly can continue for as long as half a day. Both the rush and the high are believed to result from the release of very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine into areas of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure.
Short-term dangers of meth include:
Another one of the dangers of meth is that it has toxic effects. In animals, a single high dose of the drug has been shown to damage nerve terminals in the dopamine-containing regions of the brain. The large release of dopamine produced by meth is thought to contribute to the drug's toxic effects on nerve terminals in the brain. High doses can elevate body temperature to dangerous, sometimes lethal, levels, as well as cause convulsions.
What are the long-term dangers of meth use?
The long-term dangers of meth abuse results in many damaging effects, including addiction. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing problem, characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug use which is accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain. In addition to being addicted to meth, chronic meth abusers exhibit symptoms that can include violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. They also can display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping on the skin, called "formication"). The paranoia can result in homicidal as well as suicidal thoughts.
Long-term dangers of meth include:
With chronic use, tolerance for meth can develop. In an effort to intensify the desired effects, users may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their method of meth consumption. In some cases, abusers forego food and sleep while indulging in a form of binging known as a "run," injecting as much as a gram of the drug every 2 to 3 hours over several days until the user runs out of the drug or is too disorganized to continue. Chronic abuse can lead to psychotic behavior, characterized by intense paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and out-of-control rages that can be coupled with extremely violent behavior.
Although there are no physical manifestations of a withdrawal syndrome when meth use is stopped, there are several symptoms that occur when a chronic user stops taking the drug. These include depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, and an intense craving for the drug.
In scientific studies examining the dangers of meth exposure in animals over an extended period of time, concern has arisen over its toxic effects on the brain. Researchers have reported that as much as 50 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain can be damaged after prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of meth. Researchers also have found that serotonin-containing nerve cells may be damaged even more extensively. Whether this toxicity is related to the psychosis seen in some long-term meth abusers is still an open question.
What are the dangers of meth use concerning medical complications?
Meth can cause a variety of cardiovascular problems. These include rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible, stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain. Hypothermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions occur with meth overdoses, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.
The dangers of chronic meth abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining, and among users who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses. Meth abusers also can have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Heavy users also show progressive social and occupational deterioration. Psychotic symptoms can sometimes persist for months or years after use has ceased.
Acute lead poisoning is another potential danger of meth abuse. A common method of illegal meth production uses lead acetate as a reagent. Production errors may therefore result in meth contaminated with lead. There have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous meth abusers.
Fetal exposure to meth also is one of the dangers of meth in the United States. At present, research indicates that meth abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. Meth abuse during pregnancy may be linked also to congenital deformities.