Meth and Your Body: What You Need to Know

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth and crank, is an addictive and potentially dangerous drug that users take in several ways. Most often, meth addicts smoke meth in the form of crystal rocks that they place onto metal objects such as lighters or cutlery to inhale the fumes. The key question is, what exactly happens to your body when you smoke meth, and why should you be concerned? Read on to discover everything you need to know about meth use in your body.

What is Meth?

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It’s also called meth or chalk. Meth is part of the family of drugs known as amphetamines. The term methamphetamine is often shortened to meth or chalk, which may be a reference to how some people take it in powdered form. Methamphetamine has many effects on your body, including the following:

The Difference Between Meth and Crystal Meth

First, it’s important to know the difference between meth, a stimulant drug typically made in small batches, and crystal meth. Crystal meth is the form of meth that has become more common in recent years due to its increased availability. The main difference between crystal meth and regular meth is the type of chemicals used in production. Meth can be made with different types of chemicals but most often uses ingredients such as ammonia, lithium metal, or anhydrous ammonia. When you smoke or inject crystal meth, it gets into your bloodstream faster because no chemical byproducts are created during production. It also leaves your system faster than other drugs like heroin or cocaine because it only stays in your body for about 12 hours.

How is Meth Ingested

Meth is typically ingested by smoking, snorting, or injecting the drug. Smoking meth is the most common method of ingestion because it is the fastest way for it to enter your bloodstream. Meth may also be dissolved in water and then injected intravenously. When you smoke meth, it enters your lungs first, which allows it to reach your brain more quickly than if you were injecting meth. The other methods of ingesting meth take longer to reach the brain because they have a slower effect on your body’s central nervous system (CNS).

What Does Meth Do to Your Body? 

Long-term methamphetamine use can lead to various adverse effects on the body. One of the most significant is the high risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis. Methamphetamine suppresses the immune system, which makes it easier for viruses like HIV or hepatitis C to get into your bloodstream and cause illness. This creates an even higher risk for those who share needles with others who may be infected with these viruses. Methamphetamine also causes blood vessels to constrict so that users may experience frequent nosebleeds.

Cardiovascular Effects

A few hours after smoking meth, a person’s heart rate can increase dramatically. The drug also causes an irregular heartbeat, increasing the stroke risk. Methamphetamine use has been linked with a range of cardiac problems, such as chest pain, heart attack, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathy (enlarged or weakened heart muscle), and stroke. Individuals who smoke methamphetamines are 40 times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death than people who do not use this drug.

Pulmonary Effects

The pulmonary effects of smoking meth are similar to those of tobacco. One study found that smoking can lead to chronic bronchitis or inflammation in the lining of the airways, leading to a persistent cough. In addition, smoke from meth can irritate and dry out the lungs, which leads many smokers to develop COPD. This is a progressive disease where airflow becomes increasingly limited, leading sufferers to experience wheezing, coughing, or feeling out of breath even when resting.

Your mouth also takes a hit from meth as it dries out your teeth and gums, increasing your risk for tooth decay. If you’re addicted, it will be difficult not just for your mouth but also for your overall health–and that’s why seeking treatment is so important!

Gastrointestinal Effects

Meth use leads to significant gastrointestinal damage, including the destruction of the gastric lining, ulcers, and decreased acid production. In some cases, the damage is so severe that it requires surgery. Meth uses also increases your risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

The stomach’s main role is to produce hydrochloric acid to break down food so your body can absorb nutrients. If you do not produce enough acid, you are at an increased risk for developing ulcers due to a buildup of bacteria in your intestines which causes inflammation. This chronic inflammation can increase the risk for other chronic health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. It may also be related to eating disorders like bulimia nervosa because those who suffer from this condition often binge eating followed by vomiting or using laxatives to avoid absorbing calories.

Reproductive Effects

Methamphetamine can lead to premature menopause in women. Meth alters a woman’s hormonal levels, causing estrogen and progesterone levels to drop. This interrupts the menstrual cycle and can cause premature menopause. Many women addicted to methamphetamine had no periods for up to three years. Men can also experience reproductive problems from meth use. Men taking the drug may have decreased sperm counts, erectile dysfunction, or an inability to ejaculate during sex. Meth addiction is closely linked with other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, because of behaviors related to methamphetamine use (e.g., unprotected sexual intercourse).

Short-Term Effects of Meth Abuse

The short-term effects of meth abuse are similar to those of other stimulant drugs. They include increased alertness, reduced appetite, a temporary burst of energy, increased blood pressure and heart rate, chest pain, and constricted blood vessels in the brain, causing a stroke or heart attack. Meth can also cause hallucinations, paranoia, confusion, and psychosis.

Long-Term Effects of Meth Abuse

In the long term, meth abuse can lead to brain damage. Chronic meth abusers may experience headaches, memory problems, mood swings, or anxiety attacks. They may also develop delusions and hallucinations. These issues are related to the drug’s effects on sleep patterns and appetite and other psychological changes resulting from meth abuse.

Recap on Meth and Your Body: What You Need to Know

Chronic methamphetamine abusers have a much higher risk of developing cardiomyopathy than non-users; in some cases, this can lead to death from heart failure. Additionally, chronic use of methamphetamine increases blood pressure and body temperature, which increases the risk of stroke or seizure. Methamphetamine abuse is also associated with an increased risk for HIV because it suppresses the immune system.


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