Meth: Long-Term Health Effects
The most problematic long-term health effect of methamphetamine use is addiction, which can be considered a chronic, hard-to-treat disease characterized by chronic drug-seeking behavior and drug use. Methamphetamine is known to cause long-term changes to the brain, and scientists are just now beginning to understand how damaging these changes can be. Chronically addicted methamphetamine users can exhibit antisocial symptoms such as erratic violent behavior. Other long-term mental and behavioral changes that are seen include confusion, paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations, and the sensation of insects crawling on the skin that is called "formication."
There can be such extensive damage to the brain from long-term use that it is often difficult to recognize a methamphetamine abuser from a person who has chronic schizophrenia.
Several recent studies have used brain-imaging studies to show the damaging effects of long-term methamphetamine use. In a study of 26 long-term metamphetamine users in California, magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed that the brains of these users had extensive damage as compared to people who were not long-term methamphetamine users. Another study in 2001 showed through the use of positron emission tomography (PET) scanning that the brains of long-term users of methamphetamine had significantly less neurons (brain cells) involved in the manufacture and transport of dopamine as compared to nonmethamphetamine users.
In addition to brain damage, long-term methamphetamine users suffer from other health effects. Chronic users of methamphetamine can damage their heart, resulting in inflammation of the heart lining. Long-term methamphetamine users, especially those that inject the drug, are commonly seen with skin ulcers and skin infections. Also, by using needles to inject the drug, chronic methamphetamine abusers are at high risk of developing hepatitis B and C, along with HIV and AIDS.