By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.
Methamphetamine, also known as metamfetamine , methylamphetamine, N-methylamphetamine, desoxyephedrine, and colloquially as "meth" or "crystal meth", is a psychostimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of drugs. It increases alertness, concentration, energy, and in high doses, can induce euphoria, enhance self-esteem, and increase libido. Methamphetamine has high potential for abuse and addiction by activating the psychological reward system via triggering a cascading release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. Methamphetamine is FDA approved for the treatment of ADHD and exogenous obesity, marketed in the USA under the trademark name Desoxyn.
Methamphetamine is illicitly synthesized and then sold in a crystalline form resembling small shards of odorless, bitter-tasting crystals; leading to the colloquial nickname "crystal meth". Following a period of heavy use, also known as "binging", which typically last days or even weeks, a severe withdrawal syndrome lasting up to 10 days can occur, primarily consisting of depression, fatigue, excessive sleeping and an increased appetite. Chronic methamphetamine abuse may result in prolonged psychiatric disorders, cognitive impairment, as well as an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. As a result of methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity to dopaminergic neurons, chronic abuse may also lead to withdrawal symptoms which persist beyond the withdrawal period for months, and even up to a year. Research has found that 20% of methamphetamine addicts experience a psychosis resembling schizophrenia which persists for longer than six months post-methamphetamine use; this amphetamine psychosis can be resistant to traditional treatment. In addition to psychological harm, physical harm, primarily consisting of cardiovascular damage, may occur with chronic abuse or acute overdose
Physical effects can include anorexia, hyperactivity, dilated pupils, flushing, restlessness, dry mouth, headache, tachycardia, bradycardia, tachypnea, hypertension, hypotension, hyperthermia, diaphoresis, diarrhea, constipation, blurred vision, dizziness, twitching, insomnia, numbness, palpitations, arrhythmias, tremors, dry and/or itchy skin, acne, pallor, and with chronic and/or high doses, convulsions, heart attack, stroke, and death. Psychological effects can include euphoria, anxiety, increased libido, alertness, concentration, energy, self-esteem, self-confidence, sociability, irritability, aggression, psychosomatic disorders, psychomotor agitation, grandiosity, hallucinations, excessive feelings of power and invincibility, repetitive and obsessive behaviors, paranoia, and with chronic and/or high doses, amphetamine psychosis can occur. Withdrawal symptoms of methamphetamine primarily consist of fatigue, depression and an increased appetite. Symptoms may last for days with occasional use and weeks or months with chronic use, with severity dependent on the length of time and the amount of methamphetamine used. Withdrawal symptoms may also include anxiety, agitation, akathisia, excessive sleeping, vivid or lucid dreams, deep REM sleep and suicidal ideation. Methamphetamine is addictive. While the withdrawal itself may not be dangerous, withdrawal symptoms are common with heavy use and relapse is common.
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