While methamphetamine is certainly a dangerous drug, due to its highly addictive properties, the dangers of even short-term use are many. Users may not immediately recognize the symptoms of an overdose, making it even more dangerous when higher-than-tolerable doses are taken. Normal doses of abuse may produce the same symptoms as those initially seen in an overdose. These symptoms include, but are not limited to: rapid pulse, higher heart rate, sweating, and shortness of breath, dilated pupils, and an increase in body temperature. Heart attacks are common with methamphetamine overdose, as are strokes and kidney failure. Because these symptoms take place very quickly after ingesting the drug, they may occur too rapidly to be recognized as an overdose, causing sudden death.
Symptoms of Regular Use
Even without an overdose, these symptoms occur frequently with regular use, and escalate with the ongoing use of increased amounts of the drug. Cumulative effects of methamphetamine use on the heart and liver are debilitating and serious. While some of this damage may be healed when use and abuse ends, it is possible for the resultant damage to remain for many months. Heart conditions may continue for the life of the user/abuser, depending upon their overall health condition.
Brain toxicity will remain for many months after use/abuse of methamphetamine. Longer-term use will increase likelihood that damage to the brain will remain permanently. Mood disorders are common in those who use/abuse methamphetamine for long periods, even years after the use has been stopped. The damage to the central nervous system can be seen in the form of brain damage, permanent episodes of “crawling” skin (i.e., formication) which continues to plague the user/abuse with ongoing paranoia and delusions. Even after long-term recovery from methamphetamine, triggers for anxiety and hyper-vigilance are present in the brain of users. The damage to the brain does not completely heal. Convulsions are another cause of death by overdose large or for those who use the drug long-term.
A number of those who become addicted to methamphetamine (more than 20 percent) develop a long-term psychosis similar to schizophrenia when ceasing use/abuse. This ability of methamphetamine to both mask and mimic psychotic behaviors is one of its largest dangers. In the mental health field, diagnosing psychosis is an important part of treatment. While there are numerous factors in determining the appropriate treatment for psychotic individuals, the balance is fragile. When dealing with amphetamine-induced psychosis, the treatment becomes more difficult to navigate. While the user is being treated, they are developing even worse symptoms if they continue to use methamphetamine and sometimes for a long period after cessation of use/abuse. This confounds the problems with their diagnosis and treatment, often making crystal meth rehab residential programs the best option.
Co-Occurrence with Mental Illness and Confounding Symptoms
The withdrawal symptoms persistent to methamphetamine are further confounders of treatment for mental illness, due to the presence of depressed states that may linger for more than six months post-use. While the depressed states may persist for that period, they can easily be confused with symptoms of depression and treated by mental health professionals who are not privy to the addiction records of the user. While it is uncommon for users to honestly confess their drug use, they may present with symptoms of mental illness that are caused, at least in part, by their use/abuse of methamphetamine.
Another danger in methamphetamine use/abuse also common to other drugs of abuse is use by those with preexisting mental illness. Because of its euphoric effect, methamphetamine may be sought by those who suffer from depression, as an offset to their untreated symptoms. This cycle of abuse is one that is more difficult to treat, due to the increase in depressed states seen when the user stops use. It takes several months for the normal production of dopamine and serotonin to resume, making the user fall more deeply into a depressed state. This may increase their vulnerability to suicide ideation and risk.
Brain Damage and Other Health Risks
Along with the damage to the pleasure centers of the brain, there is high risk for neurotoxic effects of methamphetamine use/abuse. This is caused by the increased levels of dopamine released into the brain. This may result in a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease. The increased dopamine uptake is also believed to be a causal factor in loss of memory, decrease in attention span, and problematic decision making, called executive function. Methamphetamine use also does damage to the digestive system. As the intake of food lessens, substantial reduction of weight and nutrients occurs, as a rule. Lack of nutrients has widespread repercussions on their bodies, reducing bone density and increasing risk for osteoporosis. Facial features impacted by long-term use of methamphetamine are sinking of the lower jaw, caused by jaw-clenching. Tooth decay and loss, as well as jaw deformation are other side effects. Users will develop skin lesions on their face and other body parts from scratching and “picking” at the “crawling” flesh experienced by methamphetamine use/abuse. Most of these are irreversible damages, along with scarring of face and loss of skin elasticity and muscle tone throughout the body.
Other risks methamphetamine users run are the transmission of HIV and hepatitis B and C from injecting the drug. Many use dirty or shared needles, increasing these risks. Also possible with injection are the dangers of pulmonary embolism and skin rashes known as “speed bumps” at the injection site. Injection is the most frequent method for overdose of methamphetamine.
Dangers present from smoking methamphetamine are the chemical burns to the lungs of long-term users/abusers. A common form of toxic health danger for smokers is pulmonary hypertension.
Risks secondary to use/abuse of methamphetamine are seen in manufacturing sites. The fumes from the manufacture of methamphetamine are toxic and highly volatile. Families and neighbors of those who manufacture methamphetamine in garages, outbuildings or basements of homes are exposed to lung damage created by fires started when chemical interactions occur in meth labs. Abandoned lab sites remain toxic to those who use the land/space for an undetermined time after they are no longer in use.