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What Does Meth Do To The Body

Crystal meth is the common name for crystal methamphetamine, an intense and extremely addictive drug that alters the central nervous system’s functioning. It is important to note that unlike many other drugs, there is no legal use for crystal methamphetamine. Instead, meth is a popular “party drug.” This form of meth appears as clear crystal chunks or shiny blue-white rocks. As a result, this substance may be referred to as ice or glass. Crystal meth is most commonly smoked with a glass pipe, but it can also be swallowed, snorted, and injected into a vein (which then classifies the user as an “IV user”). When injected intravenously, meth gets into the user’s bloodstream faster.

Although there are different ways to consume meth, the long-term effects on the body are largely the same. When meth is smoked, effects include rapid and severe lung damage as toxins go directly into the lungs. Snorting meth can lead to violent coughing and respiratory trauma, such as a collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, and the release of air into the body outside of the lungs, known as pneumomediastinum.

IV users may share needles with other users due to the expense and difficulty of obtaining new needles each time they use meth. This habit of needle sharing can easily spread blood-borne diseases from one user to another, including Hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver and can cause progressive damage over time. This condition may lead to jaundice, or yellow skin caused by the buildup of bilirubin in the blood, cirrhosis, bleeding, and nervous system damage. More seriously, needle sharing among users who inject meth can also spread HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV degrades the cells of the immune system over time, and this can leave meth users even less protected from any number of diseases.

The reason that most people use meth as a recreational drug is because of the brief but euphoric feeling in the body right after using the drug. This experience is short-lived and can be deadly. Meth has the power to damage the body and can cause a multitude of psychological problems. It’s important to understand what meth does to the body and why users devote their lives to a drug that causes so many problems, both internally and externally.

Where Does Meth Come From?

Meth is a man-made stimulant drug and is not produced naturally. Interestingly, meth is not a modern invention. During World War II, soldiers were given meth to stay alert and awake. Then, some people began taking the drug to aid their depression and then to lose weight. Currently, the only medical purpose that meth has today is to treat obesity and ADHD. However, it is rarely used and is only accessible by prescription.

Crystal meth’s main ingredient is pseudoephedrine, which is found in many cold medications. The reason why this powerful substance is added to such accessible products is because of its ability to combat congestion. The federal government is aware of this component of cold medicine and these products are closely regulated.

If meth is man-made, where does it come from and who makes it? The majority of the crystal meth used in the United States is from “super labs.” Super labs are professionally operated and equipped laboratories for the illegal production of drugs, often located in Mexico and the United States. Many of these labs are located in private homes. Producing meth is a hazardous process because of the chemical components involved. Not only are the ingredients toxic, but they can cause deadly explosions.

Physical Side Effects of Meth Use

warning sign and skull depicting how meth affects the bodyThe euphoric experience that rushes over people after meth use explains why people often get hooked after using meth their first time. After meth enters the body, the neurotransmitter, dopamine, spreads to the parts of the brain that control feelings of pleasure. With dopamine flooding the body, users start to feel confident and energized. This initial feeling is chased by users. Meth users will do anything to feel the way they did the first time they used the drug. The new frequency and increased quantity of meth use can result in the user building up a tolerance to the drug. Having a high tolerance for a drug means that the user needs higher doses to get the same high that they experienced initially. Unfortunately, the higher the dose, the higher the risks.

There are not only risks of overdose and death from meth but there are many short-term and long-term impacts. The experience of taking meth can create a false sense of well-being. As a result, meth users tend to push their bodies faster and further than safe. Meth users then experience an intense “come-down” which can be a physical, mental, or total body breakdown after the effects of the substance wear off.

Parkinson’s Disease

  • In addition to artificially stimulated dopamine neurons firing abnormally, frequent meth use can also produce abnormalities in the substantia nigra area of the midbrain. This alteration in the midbrain makes users more than three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. For women, this risk may be nearly five times more likely in meth users than in women who do not abuse meth. Parkinson’s disease is a condition that compromises the body’s ability to control its muscle movements.

Meth Psychosis

  • Meth’s effects on brain cells can lead to the development of psychosis. Psychosis occurs when a user has symptoms such as hallucinations and paranoia that can resemble schizophrenia. Although these symptoms can resolve anywhere from one to six months after the last drug use, some meth users find that they remain in psychosis long-term and are never able to go back to how they were before using meth. It is important to note that some psychotic symptoms can recur even after a long period of abstinence.

Brain Damage and Memory Loss

  • Users can also suffer brain damage and deteriorated brain function including memory loss and an inability to grasp abstract thoughts. When meth users are in recovery, they may still be impacted by memory gaps and extreme mood swings.

Unhealthy Weight Loss

  • Since the drug is a stimulant, many meth users experience a decrease in their natural feelings of hunger, and then experience a large amount of unhealthy weight loss.

Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

  • Meth use can cause irreversible harm such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. It can also damage the blood vessels in the brain, causing strokes or an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to cardiovascular collapse. The liver, kidneys, and lungs can experience irreversible damage, which can be fatal. The components of meth are toxic to blood vessels and can cause them to rupture, which could lead to bleeding in the heart. The numerous toxins contained in the drug can include battery acid, drain cleaner, paint thinner, Freon (a non-combustible gas that is used as a refrigerant in air conditioning applications), and lithium.

Bowel Tissue Damage

  • When blood vessels constrict as a result of meth use, blood flow to the bowel may be cut off. This can potentially lead to the death of bowel tissue. Death of the bowel tissue can result in holes in the intestinal wall and peritonitis, a fatal infection of the abdominal cavity that can progress to septic shock (widespread infection-causing organ failure and dangerously low blood pressure).

Meth Mouth

  • Meth users often have “meth mouth.” Meth mouth develops when users’ teeth decay and their gums become red and swollen. Chronic meth users usually have gum disease and missing teeth because of the drug’s acidity and the numerous toxins within the substance. Missing teeth can be a result of compulsive grinding of the teeth, which wears them down over time. Of course, there are other lifestyle choices that can explain poor oral hygiene.

Musculoskeletal System Damage

  • Meth abuse can also lead to a variety of effects on the musculoskeletal system of the body. This degradation can range anywhere from relatively benign to very dangerous. In a mild case, meth use can result in an increase in deep tendon reflexes or a “hyper reflexive” state. In a severe case, frequent meth use can elicit generalized, involuntary myoclonus, a sudden involuntary muscle jerk, shake, or spasm.


  • While the exact cause is not conclusive, meth abuse has been linked to a quite serious condition known as rhabdomyolysis. This condition includes the rapid destruction of muscle tissue, with a potential toxic release of the contents of the damaged cells into the bloodstream. Toxic substances entering the bloodstream can be life-threatening. Meth-induced rhabdomyolysis can cause widespread muscle pain, wild fluctuations of serum electrolytes, and if not caught and treated early enough, irreversible kidney failure. Rhabdomyolysis could potentially be induced by meth use due to a combination of increased body temperature, dehydration, increased muscle movements, and direct toxic activity of the substance on muscle cells.

Other side effects of meth use can include abnormal sleep patterns, hyperactivity, nausea, delusions of power, increased aggressiveness, confusion, anxiety, and irritability. In some fatal cases, meth use can cause convulsions that lead to death.


  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Nausea
  • Bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behavior
  • Hallucinations, hyperexcitability, irritability
  • Panic and psychosis
  • Convulsions, seizures, and death from high doses


  • Destruction of tissues in the nose…if sniffed
  • Respiratory problems…if smoked
  • Infectious diseases, hepatitis, and abscesses…if injected
  • Permanent damage to blood vessels of heart and brain
  • High blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes, and death
  • Liver, kidney, and lung damage
  • Malnutrition, weight loss
  • Severe tooth decay
  • Disorientation, apathy, confusion, exhaustion
  • Strong psychological dependence
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Damage to the brain similar to Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and epilepsy

This laundry list of damaging effects on the body is long, but there are still many unknown side-effects of meth. Meth use does not only damage the user’s body function, but the drug also damages their life and those in it. Meth users’ life choices affect everyone around them. Meth damages nearly every part of the body and has severe effects on users’ wellness, family dynamics, and relationships.

It is important to know that meth is incredibly addictive and is not easy to quit. Keep this in mind if you or a loved one are struggling with meth addiction and be empathetic to the recovery journey.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we personalize treatment plans to not only help the individual handle their meth addiction, but also rediscover their authentic interpretation of the world and rid themselves of meth-induced thoughts and psychosis.

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