Crystal meth, formally known as crystal methamphetamine, is a synthetic drug that is man made. The largest crystal meth labs are run by Mexican drug lords, in both Mexico and the US, according to the US Department of Justice.
Various chemicals are used to create crystal meth, including toxic derivatives, such as:
- Drain cleaner
- Battery acid
- Red phosphorous
The ingredients are mixed with different amphetamine products that are used for the common cold, containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and purchased over the counter. The potency of the final product is really never known until it is consumed. Once the crystal meth preparation is completed, the result renders a white crystal substance.
It is very easy and inexpensive to make crystal meth, but it is also very dangerous. The vapors that are created during the cooking process are toxic and often lead to explosions. The explosions are fairly common considering the chemicals used are mostly flammable, and meth is generally manufactured in unventilated makeshift labs filled with open containers. The meth is cooked on open flames by nonprofessionals using amateur equipment. As a result of all these factors, many injuries occur during the preparation process.
Methamphetamine can be snorted, smoked, or used intravenously. Regardless of the method of ingestion, it is highly addictive. The effects of crystal meth lasts for around eight hours, creating a feeling of euphoria, well being, extreme confidence, lack of appetite, and intense energy.
Once users start to come down from the “high” of crystal meth, they usually experience a brutal crash that affects them both physically and mentally. Methamphetamine is relentless on the human body and causes symptoms that include:
- Feelings of being superhuman
- Extreme weight loss
- Mental instability
When individuals use crystal meth, the brain releases a surge of dopamine – a brain neurotransmitter – that creates the gratifying experience. The longer the drug is used, the more the natural supply of dopamine is depleted and the brain’s natural wiring is affected. Once the natural dopamine storage has been depleted, users reach for more of the drug in order to experience any feelings of pleasure or joy. Once the drug abuse is stopped, the dopamine will replace itself naturally, but it takes time.
The long-term effects of crystal meth use can be severe and include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Strokes or cardiovascular problems
- Organ damage
- Brain damage
- Severe tooth decay
As with other drugs of abuse, users will develop a tolerance for crystal meth over time and will need to use more of the drug to receive the same high that was initially achieved with a smaller dose. Upon ingesting methamphetamine, the user experiences a rush that lasts for as long as 30 minutes, along with a racing heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and a soaring pulse, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.
Once the rush subsides, users are left with a high that can make them feel intensely focused, argumentative, and delusional. They may have a feeling of superior power, which can last as long as 16 hours. This is generally followed with a bingeing period where users crave more of the drug, and this can last as long as two weeks or until the rush and the high can no longer be attained.
Methamphetamine users experience a very dangerous phase, called tweaking, which follows the binge. Users have reached the point of not being able to achieve a high from the drug, and they begin to suffer from uncomfortable feelings, such as:
- Intense itching (often a belief that bugs are under their skin)
- Extreme insomnia
- Disconnection from reality
- Self-destructive desires
For binge users, the body may then shut down, and this is the crash that crystal meth users can experience. Users may go into a deep sleep, almost a comatose state as the body attempts to manage the effects of the drug. This crash can last for as long as three days. Upon awakening, individuals are weak, malnourished, fatigued, and dehydrated. Oftentimes, individuals take more meth at this point in order to counteract these unpleasant feelings.
While the effects of crystal meth use can often be reversed once use is stopped, some effects may be irreversible, depending on the scope of the addiction. In some instances, high levels of chronic use can lead to brain changes that are similar to those experienced with certain degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Long-term crystal meth use can also lead to a breakdown of skeletal muscle tissues.
Methamphetamine has been around for a very long time, though the procedures for manufacturing the drug have changed throughout the years and made it much more potent. In Germany, in the late 1800s, amphetamine was developed, and in 1919, Japan created methamphetamine, which was easier to produce than amphetamine. The drug was widely used in combat during World War II to promote wakefulness. After World War II, there was an epidemic of methamphetamine abuse in Japan, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.
Abuse of crystal meth began to grow in the 1950s, when it was available by prescription for use as a diet aid, a stimulant that produced alertness, and to battle depression. By the 1960s, abuse of crystal meth was quite prevalent, partially due to an injectable form of the drug that was made available. In the 1970s, methamphetamine was banned by the US government for most uses. It was classified in 1971 as a Schedule II drug. While the drug has approved medical uses, such as to treat narcolepsy, obesity, and ADHD, it is seldom prescribed in the US today. It is available as a prescription under the brand name Desoxyn, according to Drug Policy Alliance.
After this point, manufacturing and distribution of crystal meth began illegally. Initially, it was biker groups that controlled the illegal manufacturing and distribution of crystal meth, but today, meth cookers employ what they call smurfs to collect the ingredients needed to make crystal meth. Due to limits on the amounts of pseudoephedrine one can purchase, meth producers often use this tactic to acquire the large amounts of the ingredient needed to produce large batches of crystal meth. Smurfs are often people addicted to crystal meth who work for free meth. The smurfing practice requires visiting numerous pharmacies, buying as much pseudoephedrine as legally possible, and giving it to those who produce the drug.
A co-occurring mental health issue is very common with drug addiction. Many mental illnesses are either undiagnosed or under treated, so individuals seek out coping mechanisms, often in the form of alcohol and drugs, in an attempt to deal with the symptoms of the mental health issue.
Some of the mental health disorders that may co-occur with crystal meth addiction include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Conduct disorders
- Antisocial disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
It is essential that individuals with co-occurring disorders be treated for both problems at the same time. A thorough assessment can allow professionals the opportunity to strategize a treatment plan that addresses the addiction and the mental illness simultaneously. When this dual-treatment approach is taken, it offers the best chances for a successful outcome and long-term recovery.
Individuals who are addicted to crystal meth suffer from withdrawal when attempting to quit the drug, so medical detox is required. The symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal include loss of energy, depression, loss of pleasure, and thoughts of suicide. Withdrawal from crystal meth can be difficult, so it should be done in a medical setting with direct, constant supervision. Medical staff members are often able to reduce the amount of discomfort that clients experience via both medications and holistic treatment options.
A variety of therapies, including Contingency Management interventions and behavioral therapies, may be utilized in the treatment of crystal meth addiction. Twelve-Step meetings, individual and group therapy, education on the biological nature of addiction, and various alterative therapies may be used. Clinical trials conducted by NIDA’s National Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network have shown that incentive-based programs that reward individuals for negative drug tests have been seen positive results.
Inpatient treatment for crystal meth can last up to 90 days, though in some cases, it may last even longer. Longer treatment programs have seen the best results since a comprehensive approach to recovery is necessary to ensure long-term success. In treatment, individuals will learn how to manage triggers that often lead to relapse and to develop alternate coping skills.