Meth, short for crystal methamphetamine, is a stimulant that affects the brain, central nervous system and spinal cord. The chemicals in meth change how the brain interprets and receives chemical messages by affecting the neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters that undergo the most change are those that process dopamine. Dopamine is naturally produced in the brain. It is released by the body to stimulate pleasure and reward. Meth causes dopamine to flood the neurotransmitters, creating a level of euphoria that can only be found again by using more meth. After extended use, the body no longer produces dopamine naturally on its own, and the user must use large quantities of the drug to reach previous highs. Users become reliant on the drug to experience positive emotions and can often spiral into depression and hopelessness without it. It is for this reason that methamphetamines can become so addicting, even after a short period of use.
Usually crystalline and white in color, it can be smoked, snorted, injected or ingested. The prime ingredient in methamphetamines can be found in a large variety of chemicals but is most commonly extracted from cold medicine. Unlike many other drugs, meth is entirely man made. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are mixed with up to 32 different chemicals to purify and crystallize the drug. The process is extremely hazardous and causes an excess of chemical waste just to create one batch.
Initially, the user’s heartbeat, blood pressure and metabolism greatly increase. Euphoria floods the brain, and the user feels a heightened sense of awareness. This is known as “the rush” and can last up to 30 minutes. This period places a great deal of strain on the heart and can often lead to medical complications in the future.
“The shoulder,” or high, lasts 4 to 16 hours. During it, the user feels more intelligent, perceptive and possibly superhuman. Repetitive tasks such as cleaning become enthralling, and the user can become obsessed with repeating a simple activity. Boredom becomes nonexistent, and the user feels no need to eat. This period of delusional empowerment can lead some users to become more talkative and social while others become paranoid and aggressive. The user’s perception of their capabilities can lead them into dangerous situations.
After time, the effects of the drug begin to wear off, and the user must consume more of the drug to maintain the high. Each subsequent smoke or injection brings another, smaller rush and extends the period of the high. This is known as “the binge” and can last from a few days to a few weeks. Eventually, the body no longer responds to the drug’s effects, and the user enters the dangerous phase known as “tweaking.”
These final stages can be the most dangerous for the user. The body is deprived of dopamine, leading to an overwhelming sense of emptiness. The user most likely has not slept or eaten for several days. Hallucinations and cravings can make them a danger to themselves. In the final periods known as “the crash,” the body shuts down. Users can sleep for several days straight only to awaken starved, dehydrated and exhausted. During this time, the body will crave another hit of meth to recover its energy and emotional state. It is during these final stages where users need the most help and support to recover. Withdrawal can last anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months. With support and treatment, many users are able to recover, but only when fully removed from accessing the drug. If you suspect someone you know is suffering from a meth addiction, seek help immediately.