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The Effects Of Meth On The Body

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 28, 2019

Meth is an addictive stimulant that can permanently damage a person’s heart, lungs, and respiratory system. Meth also harms people’s skin, and can lead to severe dental decay known as “meth mouth.”

Meth is a highly addictive drug that can alter a person’s health and appearance. This drug can be smoked, snorted, or injected. Each of these methods of use can result in dangerous physical consequences.

When a person ingests meth, they may experience feelings of intense energy, euphoria, and hyperactivity. However, abusing this stimulant can lead to stroke, heart disease, and overdose.

Because of its powerful chemical properties, meth causes extreme weight loss, and can ravage a person’s teeth, hair, and skin.

What Happens When A Person Is High On Meth?

When someone experiences meth intoxication, they may feel euphoric and alert. Some people may experience this “upper” high for 8 to 12 hours. Others report that extreme agitation, anxiety, and even psychosis can occur the first time someone takes meth.

When a person is high on meth, they may experience tactile hallucinations in the body. This condition produces a feeling of bugs crawling across the body, which causes people to repeatedly scratch the skin.

Meth intoxication can also lead to paranoid, violent behavior. People who are high on meth may feel like someone is out to get them. They may hide in unsafe places, and attempt to harm themselves or someone else.

The pleasurable effects of meth are not permanent. Many people experience a craving for more, and may go on a binge that lasts for several days. For many, this begins the cycle of meth abuse and addiction.

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What Are The Short-Term Effects Of Meth On The Body?

When someone ingests meth, their brain’s reward system is triggered. People experience a rush of pleasure, as well as a desire to repeat the experience. This strong urge can lead to meth dependence and addiction, where a person needs the substance to feel normal.

Meth can cause short-term and long-term damage to the body. While some effects of meth are visible, this drug also causes internal harm.

Short-term effects of meth on the body include:

  • bloodshot eyes
  • dry, cracked skin
  • runny nose
  • heavy sweating
  • nosebleeds
  • grinding teeth
  • clenched jaw
  • elevated body temperature
  • high blood pressure
  • twitching body parts

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Meth On The Body?

The high from meth can last for hours, but comes with a difficult crash. As the effects of the drug begin to fade, a person may feel nauseous, exhausted, and filled with anxiety or dread.

Natural chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin, are released when a person uses meth. A person may feel aroused and alert when on meth, but that can quickly shift to feelings of suspicion and aggression.

The effects of meth can be unpredictable. A person may think they are unaffected by the drug, when in reality, meth is harming them from the inside out.

Long-term effects of meth on the body include:

  • rotting teeth
  • gaunt appearance
  • infected skin abscesses or boils
  • extreme weight loss
  • insomnia
  • severe mood swings
  • seizures
  • seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

Does Meth Increase The Risk Of Disease?

Meth exposure can contribute to life-threatening medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and HIV/AIDS. Long-term use of the drug is also linked to internal organ damage, including the liver and lungs.

Meth can result in long-term medical conditions that include:

Heart damage

When a person uses meth, it puts major stress on the heart and cardiovascular system. Meth raises a person’s heart rate, and can cause tachycardia (pounding or racing heart) and arrhythmia (feeling of the heart skipping a beat).

Chronic high blood pressure is also a consequence of meth abuse. This condition can result in damaged arteries and reduced blood flow to the organs.

Rhabdomyolysis

This condition occurs when muscle tissue is damaged. Meth abuse can cause the body to tremor, which breaks down muscle tissue over time.

People suffering from rhabdomyolysis may experience acute muscle pain. If this condition is not treated, it can result in kidney failure.

Respiratory issues

When people snort or smoke meth, it’s likely they will encounter respiratory problems. Meth is often cut with toxic chemicals such as drain cleaner.

When ingested, these toxins invade lung tissue and contribute to risks such as pulmonary hypertension. Meth also speeds up a person’s breathing, which can cause a person to lose consciousness.

Parkinson’s disease

Meth is toxic to the human body. This drug can cause neurological damage and contribute to disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers found that people who use meth are up to 3 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. This movement disorder causes trembling in the hands, arms, legs, and face.

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C

Meth abuse raises the risk of a person coming into contact with HIV and Hepatitis B and C — even if they don’t use needles to inject the drug.

Experts say even those who don’t inject meth are at risk, because meth leads to risky behaviors. Meth affects people’s judgment, and can lead to rash decisions like having unprotected sex.

Meth Overdose

Stimulant drug overdoses are on the rise, and have increased 30 percent in recent years. The risk of overdose spikes if meth is combined with other drugs. Meth overdose can be fatal, and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Symptoms of meth overdose include:

  • chest pain
  • irregular or stopped heartbeat
  • elevated body temperature
  • seizure
  • coma

If you see a person showing signs of a meth overdose, call 911 immediately.

Meth Withdrawal And Detox

Withdrawing from meth can be a painful process. Because this substance significantly changes brain chemistry, it can be difficult to stop using meth.

When a person suddenly stops using meth, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These can include body tremors and strong cravings for the drug. Meth withdrawal may also cause extreme depression, which increases the risk of suicide.

Addiction treatment centers offer medical detox programs in order to help people safely get off meth. Emotional support, nutrition, and medication-assisted treatment is provided to support those suffering from meth withdrawal.

Getting Treatment For Meth Addiction

Meth is one of the most destructive drugs around. More than 1.2 million Americans report using meth in the last twelve months. If you or someone you know is struggling with meth abuse, help is available at addiction treatment centers across the U.S.

People suffering from meth addiction may also be battling a mental health disorder (called dual diagnosis). Inpatient treatment is the most secure, stable environment for someone who needs dual diagnosis care.

Inpatient rehab centers offer on-site detox programs and recovery therapies, and many accept public and private insurance to offset the cost of treatment.

To learn more about the effects of meth on the body, or to find a rehab center near you, reach out to one of our specialists today.

MedlinePlus - Methamphetamine, Parkinson's Disease

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Are people who abuse methamphetamine at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C?, What is methamphetamine?, What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Methamphetamine, Methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse and risk of Parkinson’s disease in Utah: a population-based assessment, Methamphetamine abuse and rhabdomyolysis in the ED: a 5-year study.

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