Methamphetamines are a variant of amphetamines. Although they have a lot in common each one acts differently on the mind and body. They are both classed as a stimulant meaning that they speed up messages between the brain and the body by increasing the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. When these chemicals are increased, a person will feel a sense of euphoria and an increase in energy. This in turn increases a person’s ability to stay awake and increase focus.
How is methamphetamine misused?
In the 1930s amphetamines were marketed in France and the United States to treat such ailments as asthma and colds. In the 1950s methamphetamine was prescribed to treat such ailments as depression, alcoholism, dual diagnosis and obesity. Both substances made their way to the streets for sale and are both used recreationally.
Methamphetamine increases the amount of natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviours. The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behaviour, making the user want to repeat the experience.
How is methamphetamine manufactured?
Unlike drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, which are derived from plants, methamphetamines can be manufactured using a variety of store-bought chemicals such as pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, commonly found in cold medicine. Through a cooking process, the pseudoephedrine or ephedrine is chemically changed into meth. The ingredients that are used in the process of making methamphetamine can include: paint thinner, acetone, anhydrous ammonia, iodine crystals, red phosphorus, drain cleaner, battery acid, and lithium (taken from inside batteries).
How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, such as cocaine?
Cocaine and methamphetamine share several characteristics. They both enhance energy; alertness and they can lead to numerous long-term health problems. Both drugs can be snorted, injected and smoked. However, methamphetamine and cocaine differ from each other in many ways. Methamphetamine is a more addictive drug than cocaine. The drugs also differ in appearance, euphoric effects, long-term health consequences and street price. The body also metabolises the drugs differently.
What are the immediate (short term) effects of methamphetamine misuse?
Short term effects of using methamphetamines are increased wakefulness and physical activity, decreased appetite, faster breathing, rapid and/or irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure and body temperature.
What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine use?
Long-term effects of using methamphetamine are weight loss, addiction, dental problems, confusion, memory loss, sleep problems, paranoia, and hallucinations. Continued use can cause changes in the brain’s dopamine system. This can affect coordination and impair verbal learning.
What is a methamphetamine overdose?
An overdose can occur when the central nervous system is overstimulated which can induce dangerously high body temperature and dangerously high blood pressure. These and other changes can cause stroke, heart attack and organ problems, including kidney failure. Without prompt medical treatment, these conditions can become fatal. A fatal methamphetamine overdose is often preceded by convulsions and coma.
What are the risks of methamphetamine misuse during pregnancy?
There is limited information about the effects of methamphetamine misuse during pregnancy. The research that is available reported increased rates of premature delivery, placental abruption, small birth size/, lethargy, and heart and brain abnormalities.
Are people who misuse methamphetamine at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C?
Drug users contract these diseases or other infections through unsafe substance abuse practices such as, sharing needles and reusing drug paraphernalia. But regardless of how methamphetamine is taken, its strong effects can alter judgment and inhibition and lead people to engage in risky behaviours like unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners.
What treatments are effective for methamphetamine use and addiction?
There is no one size fits all model in treating methamphetamine misuse and addiction. It is a relapsing condition and therefore interventions may need to be applied repeatedly before any changes can occur. A client-centred approach takes into consideration the specific needs of an individual and allows them to participate in their own recovery, which in turn can lead to better outcomes.
Detoxification, or detox, is the process of letting the body remove the drugs in it. The purpose of detox is to safely manage withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking drugs or alcohol.
Hospital inpatient detoxification/withdrawal provides a high level of medical care for patients experiencing withdrawal from methamphetamine. This may be the preferred treatment setting when there is a risk of complex withdrawal due to substance use factors or due to another condition.
Specialist AOD residential detoxification/withdrawal services can provide 24-hour, medium level supportive care to clients withdrawing from methamphetamine. While medical support is often provided, it is at a lower intensity than in hospital inpatient settings. The duration of stay is generally short term.
Home-based withdrawal may be suitable for clients experiencing mild-to-moderate methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms. Home-based withdrawal involves collaboration with a supervising GP or nurse prescriber as well as other AOD services. Medication to support withdrawal can be dispensed daily or every few days depending on abuse potential or supervision requirements.
Residential rehabilitation involves a stay of several weeks to months in a residential setting that provides an intensive programme of integrated services and therapeutic activities (e.g. behavioural treatment approaches, recreational activities, social and community living skills, group work and relapse prevention. To varying degrees, residential programs incorporate elements of recovery group philosophies such as 12- step-based approaches, or therapeutic communities where participants live in a community with other people wanting to address their substance use.
As an alternative to residential rehabilitation, or for clients who do not want to participate in rehabilitation within a residential setting, several models that provide non-residential, outpatient, rehab at home or ‘day’ rehabilitation have been developed.
Self-help groups such as 12 Step programs and SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) can offer encouragement, hope, and healthy peer interactions. These self-help groups aid in facilitating the formation of groups of people who have similar goals for their recovery.
What treatments are under development for methamphetamine use and addiction?
There are currently no medications that counteract the specific effects of methamphetamine or that prolong abstinence from and reduce the use of methamphetamine by an individual addicted to the drug. NIDA has made a research on the development of medications to treat addiction to stimulants and other drugs a priority, and NIDA-funded researchers are investigating several pharmacological approaches for treating methamphetamine use disorder.
Where can I get further information about methamphetamine?
Pennay, A.E. and N.K. Lee, Putting the call out for more research: the poor evidence base for treating methamphetamine withdrawal. Drug and Alcohol Review, 2011. 30(2): p. 216-222. 131
Methamphetamine Treatment Guidelines Turning Point 87. Manning, V., et al., Alcohol and other Drug Withdrawal: Practice Guidelines, 3rd ed. 2018, Turning Point, for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services: Richmond, Victoria. 88.
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