Physical Effects of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine (meth) is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that strongly activates certain systems in the brain. Chemically, it’s closely related to the drug amphetamine, but the central nervous system effects of meth are greater. Dependence occurs swiftly.
Like other amphetamines, meth induces a temporary state of alertness, increased energy, suppressed appetite, and feelings of well-being. Continued use may result in severe anxiety, sleeplessness, and a paranoid psychosis. Chronic abuse overtakes the body, resulting in malnutrition and increased susceptibility to disease. Users can become physically and psychologically dependent on meth. Overdose leading to death can occur.
Meth is reported to attack the immune system, so users are often prone to infections of all different kinds, one being methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a potentially deadly infection of Staph bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics. This, too, may simply be a result of long-term sleep deprivation and/or chronic malnutrition.
It’s a common belief that meth gives people super-human strength. This of course is false, but meth inhibits pain and increases metabolism, allowing the user to push muscles to points of failure that would otherwise be harder or impossible to reach.
Other side effects include twitching, jitteriness, repetitive behavior (known as tweaking), and jaw clenching or teeth grinding. It has been noted that meth addicts lose their teeth abnormally fast due to a combination of side effects, although heavy users also tend to neglect personal hygiene, such as brushing teeth.
Some users exhibit sexually compulsive behavior and may engage in extended sexual encounters with one or more individuals, often strangers. This behavior is substantially more common among gay and bisexual male meth users than their heterosexual counterparts. As it is symptomatic of the user to continue taking the drug to combat fatigue, the encounter or series of encounters can last for several days. This compulsive behavior has created a link between meth use and sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission, especially HIV and syphilis.
In scientific studies examining the consequences of long-term meth exposure, concern has arisen over its toxic effects on the brain. Researchers report that as much as 50 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain can be damaged after prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of meth. Serotonin-containing nerve cells may be damaged even more extensively. Whether this toxicity is related to the psychosis seen in some long-term meth abusers is still an open question. Over time, meth appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, a severe movement disorder.
Animal research shows that high doses of meth damage neuron cell endings. Dopamine- and serotonin-containing neurons do not die after meth use, but their nerve endings (terminals) are cut back, and regrowth appears to be limited.
The Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse