One of the most frightening drugs teenagers can be exposed to is methamphetamine, commonly known as meth. Some parents’ exposure to this may be limited to the television show Breaking Bad, and its storyline of a chemistry teacher turned meth dealer. But the drug is extremely dangerous, and teenagers and young adults are part of its reach.
According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 667,000 people (ages 12 and older) were meth users. That includes about 9,000 people between the ages of 12 and 17, and 65,000 between ages 18 and 25.
Here’s a look at the dangers of meth.
Meth is a stimulant, and highly addictive. Among the short-term effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are increased activity and attention, decreased fatigue and appetite, and euphoria. It also creates cardiovascular issues including an increased heart rate and blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat, the institute states.
The NIDA for Teens site describes the actual substance as “a manmade, white, bitter-tasting powder. Sometimes it’s made into a white pill or a shiny, white or clear rock called a crystal.” The ingredients may include toxic chemicals, or “cheap, over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, which is common in cold medicines.”
As with most drugs, there are nicknames: Meth may be referred to as “speed,” “chalk” and “tina,” according to the NIDA. Crystal meth, which looks like glassy chunks or rocks, is also called “crank,” “glass” and “ice.”
Meth can be snorted, injected, smoked or swallowed. “Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate and intense high,” the NIDA states. “Because the feeling doesn’t last long, users often take the drug repeatedly, in a ‘binge and crash’ pattern.”
The effect on the body
A meth overdose can cause death. Because it can raise body temperature, meth may cause the user to pass out, the NIDA reports: “If not treated right away, this can cause death. Death can also occur from heart attack or stroke caused by the drug’s effects on the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which raises heart beat and blood pressure and constricts blood vessels.”
The physical appearance of a regular meth user can deteriorate. The internet is loaded with harrowing before-and-after images of meth users.
Because meth causes the constriction of blood vessels, it “cuts off the steady flow of blood to all parts of the body,” according to PBS Frontline.
“Heavy usage can weaken and destroy these vessels, causing tissues to become prone to damage and inhibiting the body’s ability to repair itself,” the story says. “Acne appears, sores take longer to heal, and the skin loses its luster and elasticity. Some users are covered in small sores, the result of obsessive skin-picking brought on by the hallucination of having bugs crawling beneath the skin, a disorder known as formication.”
Regular meth use can also cause serious dental issues, commonly referred to as “meth mouth.”
“The teeth of people addicted to methamphetamines are characterized by being blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling and falling apart,” the American Dental Association reports. “Often, the teeth cannot be salvaged and must be removed.”
The effect on the brain
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is the key element in how meth affects the brain. Methamphetamine causes a dopamine release, which creates “feelings of extreme pleasure, sometimes referred to as a ‘rush’ or ‘flash,’” the NIDA for Teens story reports.
“It is important to note that when you do fun drug-free things like listen to music, play video games, or eat tasty food, the brain naturally releases small amounts of dopamine, making you feel pleasure,” the institute explains. “But meth floods the brain with dopamine, depleting its supply. So, once the effects have worn off, the brain will no longer send the small amounts of this pleasure producing chemical to the brain when you do ordinary activities, and that can lead to depression.”
Continued use of methamphetamine can cause “chemical and molecular changes in the brain, sometimes for a long time,” the story states. “The activity of the dopamine system changes, causing problems with feeling pleasure, movement, and thinking.”
Long-term use is even worse for teenagers than it is for adults, as reported by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: “The drug does its greatest damage in the area of the brain involved in a person’s ability to organize, reason and remember.”
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