Natural versus Chemical: aren't they both chemicals? Methamphetamine is classified as a psychostimulant. This is the same classification as other drugs of abuse as amphetamine and cocaine. We know that methamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine and the neurotransmitter dopamine, but it is quite different from cocaine. Although these stimulants have similar behavioral and physiological effects, there are some major differences in the basic mechanisms of how they work at the level of the nerve cell. However, the bottom line is that methamphetamine, like cocaine, results in an accumulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and this excessive dopamine concentration appears to produce the stimulation and feelings of euphoria experienced by the user. In contrast to cocaine, which is quickly removed and almost completely metabolized in the body, methamphetamine has a much longer duration of action and a larger percentage of the drug remains unchanged in the body. This results in methamphetamine being present in the brain longer. In turn, the use of meth versus cocaine leads to prolonged stimulant effects, and one third or more of the drug passing through the body out into the urine.
Cocaine is based on a natural product and is metabolized fairly quickly in the user's body - 1 hour half-life. As a natural product, cocaine use will send strong abuse and withdrawal signals back to the user. Methamphetamine is a chemical compound and is metabolized very slowly - 12 hour half-life. Methamphetamine use sends very little abuse and withdrawal signals back to the user (at least at first); yet the internal damage it does to the user's brain and internal organs is almost immediate.
Meth abuse and medical complications
The abuse of methamphetamine can cause a wide array of medical complications, the first of which include cardiovascular problems. The symptoms of cardiovascular problems due to meth abuse include rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions occur with methamphetamine overdoses, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.
Those who abuse meth repeatedly and over a long period of time can cause inflammation of their heart lining. For those meth users who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses are par for the course when it comes to medical complications. Methamphetamine abusers also can have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Heavy meth users also show progressive social and occupational deterioration.
Unfortunately, even after stopping meth use psychotic symptoms can sometimes persist for months or years. Acute lead poisoning is another potential risk for methamphetamine abusers. A common method of illegal methamphetamine production uses lead acetate as a reagent. Production errors may therefore result in methamphetamine contaminated with lead. There have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous methamphetamine abusers.
Sadly, fetal exposure to methamphetamine also is a significant problem in the America. Currently, research indicates that methamphetamine 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. Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may be linked also to congenital deformities.