ARTICLE SUMMARY: In this article, we explain how meth works in the brain and body. We review duration of effects and talk openly about getting high. Your questions are welcome at the end.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Brain Effects
- Body Effects
- How Long Effects Last
- Duration of Action
- Time in the Body
- How Long a High Lasts
- Getting High Effects
- Signs of a Problem
Methamphetamine is a very strong synthetic drug that stimulates sections in our brain responsible for pleasure. Meth stimulates the release of neurotransmitters. At the same time it prohibits their reuptake, effectively blocking their return to the nerve cells. More specifically, it affects:
- The norepinephrine system in the peripheral nervous system.
- The dopamine system in the central nervous system.
Q: But, which neurotransmitters does meth affect exactly?
A: Dopamine and serotonin.
1. DOPAMINE. Using methamphetamine can cause a 1,500 percent increase in dopamine in your brain. The cerebral cortex of the frontal lobe is the area where most of the dopamine-sensitive neurons are located. How does it work?
As mentioned above, meth affects the brain by increasing the release and blocking the reuptake of dopamine in two ways. First, it increases dopamine release, therefore increasing dopamine in the intercellular space. Because dopamine is a neurotransmitter, this increase produces stronger nerve signals. Second, methampetamine prevents reuptake of dopamine into the brain cell. Methamphetamine blocks the dopamine transporters, trapping more dopamine within the intercellular space. Because of both of these actions, dopamine accumulates and the cell is bombarded, causing increased stimulation and a stronger signal transmission.
However, many areas of the brain are affected by methamphetamines. Damage to the mid brain by prolonged meth use causes the user to become irritable, anxious, or moody. The occipital lobe, which processes visual information, is affected, causing some meth users to hallucinate. The frontal lobe processes emotions, moods, and it is the area for planning and reasoning. Damage to this area by meth can cause impaired judgment, impulsive thinking, and strong unprovoked emotions such as feelings of rage ….without cause.
2. SEROTONIN. Meth also alters the function of serotonin in the body. This neurotransmitter plays an important role in regulating:
- Body temperature
- Motor function
- Sexual activity
- Sleep induction
Meth does not only affect the brain. The “dopamine dump” it triggers affects the entire body. In fact, dopamine is used throughout the body to initiate the flight-or-flight response. Here are the main body effects of meth.
Cardiovascular Effects = Dopamine causes increased heart rate. It also triggers vasoconstriction in other areas of the body. Because of these responses, the heart requires more oxygen to send to other organs of the body. However, an increase in blood pressure to accommodate for this need can sometimes prevent blood from returning to the heart. Blood cannot move as easily through the vessels when meth is in your system. In some cases, blood vessels that feed the heart constrict, preventing the heart from receiving an adequate blood supply. This leads to myocardial infarction, in some cases small, multiple infarctions over time.
Gastrointestinal Effects = Gastrointestinal motility decreases due to decreased blood flow, which causes a decreased appetite and less frequent bowel movements. In extreme cases, people who use meth often can suffer from bowel ischemia due to insufficient blood flow.
Kidney Effects = When methamphetamine abusers binge, they typically do not drink enough fluids, causing dehydration. Due to dehydration, blood pressure dramatically decreases, causing decreased blood flow to the kidneys. Because of this decrease, you are susceptible to kidney failure when you binge use.
Musculoskeletal Effects = Methamphetamine use can lead to muscle breakdown, increasing the level of breakdown products such as creatinine phosphokinase (CPK), which is toxic to the kidneys in high concentrations. Continued and increased muscular breakdown can lead to rhabdomylosis, a condition involving ex
How Long Do Meth Effects Last?
General effects of meth are often compared to those of cocaine. However, meth effects can last for up to 12 hours after administration.
Meth Duration Of Action
The duration of action for meth varies depending on the dose administered and the history of drug use. Furthermore, each individual has the potential to develop a level of tolerance as a unique way to handle the presence of drugs in the system. Tolerance levels also influence the duration of action. In addition, the route of administration can change onset of action, as well as duration of action.
Common ways of using meth include:
Injecting meth = The fastest way to get meth into your bloodstream and brain through injection, almost instantly causing effects. However, the high is more short-lived than other ways of taking meth.
Smoking meth = Smoking, on the other hand, is method of ingestion used by people who chronically take meth. This method of use brings on effects almost immediately. Again, the high wears off quicker than other routes of administration.
Snorting meth = Snorting meth produces euphoria, an intense sense of well-being, or a high, but not an intense rush. Effects after snorting are usually felt within 3 to 5 minutes of ingestion.
Oral route of administration = After an oral dose of meth, peak concentrations are detected in the bloodstream in about 3 hours after dosing. However, peak levels of the metabolites of methamphetamine are reached 12 hours later.
Transdermal route of administration = Meth even has the potential to be absorbed through intact skin in body areas with high surface concentration.
Meth Time In The Body
Meth stays in the body for a significantly long period of time.
However, there are factors that influence how much time will be needed for methamphetamine to get completely eliminated. Factors include:
- Amount of meth taken
- General health state
- How frequently the drug is used
- Level of hydration
- Rate of metabolism
- Urine pH levels
- User’s body mass
…and other factors.
Meth peak blood concentrations differ depending on mode of administration. Although the half-life of meth can range greatly depending on mode of administration, its half-life generally stays in the range between 10 to 12 hours. But, meth and its active metabolites (amphetamine, p-OH-amphetamine and norephedrine) can be detected on drug tests way longer.
In urine-based drug tests, meth is present up to 4 days, and this period could be extended to a week with heavy and chronic use. Meth stays detectable in the blood from 24 hours and up to 48 hours. The drug can be found in hair the longest, and time periods range from months to a year depending on the level of meth usage and the length of your hair. It can also be detected in your saliva for approximately 1-2 days after the last use.
How Long Does A Meth High Last?
A meth high tends to be progressive, meaning that it can peak over time. This prolonged euphoric effect is extremely sought out in meth users. Binge use is also very common as users try to expand the duration of effects. Here is what the phases of meth high look and feel like:
The Rush = Lasts for 5 minutes and causes intense euphoria, fast brainstorming, sexual stimulation, hyper energetic, occupied with details, thought blending, pupils are dilated etc.
The Shoulder = Lasts for about 1 hour, during which euphoria is less tense, otherwise the remaining effects are the same.
Binge use = Lasts for 1 to 5 days, when meth is taken in order to regain or maintain euphoria. Binging can lead you to become dependent on meth after repeated binge episodes.
Tweaking = Lasts for 4 to 24 hours, characterized by extreme dissatisfaction and cravings. During this time, the pupils are back to normal and you can experience scattered thoughts, paranoia, anxiety and irritability. Auditory hallucinations and delusions can also occur.
The Crash = Lasts for 1 to 3 days, during which you feel tired, constantly falling asleep, but are still craving for meth.
Normalizing = Lasts for 2 to 7 days, when you kind of return to back to normal but still face cravings.
Withdrawal = You go through withdrawal if you stop taking meth and are dependent on the drug. Many symptoms peak after 7 days, when you have lack of energy and sudden waves of intense craving, depression, extreme tiredness and exhaustion.
If you want to get off meth for good, you may need to go through withdrawal. Withdrawal can be seriously difficult. Your brain may be so depleted of serotonin that you start thinking of suicide. This is actually a symptom of withdrawal…and one reason to seek help from a medical detox.
Typically, symptoms will gradually lessen and improve between days 7–14. Most of the physical effects of withdrawal are usually mild. Even though they may be uncomfortable, they are bearable and typically pose little risk, especially if detox is completed under medical supervision. However, a depressed mood may begin to set in as soon as the drug wears off. Cravings are strong and are a part of withdrawal, as well. Medical detox helps support these symptoms…and helps prevent relapse.
Approximately 1–3 days after the last dose, a person may begin to experience what’s called “the crash.” Symptoms of this include excessive sleepiness, irritability, and an increasingly negative mood or even depression, which typically lasts around 3–5 days. Other symptoms that may begin to appear during the first few days include increased appetite, drug cravings, trouble with movement and coordination or agitation. Plus, vivid or unpleasant dreams are also reported. Around day 4, other symptoms of withdrawal may begin to occur, such as paranoia, inability to feel pleasure, and decreased sexual satisfaction.
The main complications of meth withdrawal are:
Overdose? Yes, there is a risk of overdose upon relapse. If you relapse, you may be tempted to take your usual dose, which may be too high and cause an accidental overdose. Other possible medical complications and risks of meth withdrawal may include:
- Dangerous behavior due to psychosis or paranoia
- Driving impairment due to psychomotor retardation or agitation.
- Protracted withdrawal symptoms
- Suicidal ideas
Meth High Effects
New methods of producing meth in the 1990’s enabled the psychogenic isomer d-methamphetamine to cause more extreme effects and enhance the experience of being high.
While a meth high gives the user a feeling of euphoria and well-being, the desirable effects are accompanied by many unwanted effects of meth use. Side effect of methamphetamine use include:
- Dryness of the mouth
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased breathing rate
- Increased heart rate
- Long periods of no sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Metallic-like taste
- Problems breathing
- Weight loss
Not to forget that meth is highly addictive! In fact, meth addiction and physical dependence are almost unavoidable, especially with chronic use, the percentage of meth addicts seeking professional help is increasing every day.
Can A Person Overdose On Methamphetamine?
Yes, a person can overdose on methamphetamine. An overdose occurs when you use too much of the drug. Too much meth has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death. Meth can make a user’s body temperature rise so high s/he could pass out or even die. Or, a user may feel anxious and confused, be unable to sleep, have mood swings, and become violent.
Plus, methamphetamine overdose can lead to:
- Heart attack
- Organ problems, such as kidney failure, caused by overheating
Is your need for meth increasing? Are you using more meth more often? If you feel stuck because of your meth addiction and want to quit but are unable to…there are ways to stop use in a safe and successful manner. Learn more about the addiction treatment process, rehab options, therapies and programs that can help in our GUIDE on Meth Addiction Treatment .
What Are the Signs Someone Is Using Meth?
Have you noticed changes in someone you care about?
A meth user’s looks can change dramatically. S/He may age quickly. The skin may dull and hard-to-heal sores and pimples appear. Regular users may have a dry mouth and stained, broken, or rotting teeth.
However, there are some behavioral patterns that are also worrying. Someone under the influence of the drug may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex. A meth user may also become paranoid. S/He may hear and see things that aren’t there or may think about hurting himself or others. S/He may also feel as though insects are crawling on or under his skin.
More chronic meth users can also display the following signs:
- Angry outbursts or mood swings
- Delusions of grandeur
- Extreme weight loss
- Not caring about personal appearance or grooming
- Obsessively picking at hair or skin
- Rapid eye movement
- Strange sleeping patterns like staying up for days or even weeks at a time
- Violent behavior
If you notice these signs, give us a call for help.
We understand meth problems. We’re here to help you or a loved one get better.
Keep in mind that when you are aware of the specific signs and symptoms of meth addiction, you can address the mental health issue sooner, and have a better chance at successful recovery.
Pick up the phone today.
Let’s verify your coverage for treatment at an American Addiction Centers location. Your information is always confidential.
Meth Duration Questions
After reading this article, is there still something that is not quite clear? Please ask us your questions about meth and its duration in the comments section and we will respond personally and promptly.
Reference Sources: WebMD: What to know about crystal meth
Neuroscience Fundamentals: Meth and the Brain
Addiction: Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects
Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation: What is Ice?
NIDA: Drug Facts: Methamphetamine
Utah Department of Health: Methamphetamine
National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration: The Effect of Methamphetamines on Driving
Hazardous Substances Data Bank TOXNET: Amphetamine
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.