What is meth used for?

Methamphetamine (meth) is one of the most addictive stimulant drugs out there. In this article we’ll take a look at the most common issues considering the use of meth and its effects on the human body.

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The first meth stimulant was developed in 1919 by a Japanese pharmacologist. It produced feelings of well-being and alertness and alleviated fatigue. But does meth have any therapeutic medical uses? How does meth use affect the body?  We review here, and invite your questions about meth or how you can help a meth addict at the end.

Meth uses

Today, meth is rarely used in medicine. While methamphetamine salts can be prescribed by a doctor to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other conditions (sleeping disorders, for example), meth has been classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled.

Meth uses and side effects

Generally, methamphetamine is taken orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Because the pleasure fades quickly, users often take repeated doses, in a “binge and crash” pattern.  But this drug creates havoc on the human body, affecting both body and brain. There are many negative side effects to meth use, but we’ll take a look at the most important ones.

First of all, meth rapidly releases dopamine in “reward regions” of the brain, generating the euphoric “rush” or “flash” that many users experience. But every pleasure comes at a price. Long term methamphetamine use has many negative consequences for physical health, including extreme weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”), and skin sores caused by scratching.  Additionally, long term meth effects on the brain can include:

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  • emotional and cognitive problems
  • impaired verbal learning
  • reduced motor skills

When it comes to the body, meth abuse can be recognized by symptoms which can include:

  • decreased appetite
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased body temperature
  • increased physical activity
  • increased respiration
  • irregular heart beat
  • rapid heart rate

Also, people who use or abuse methamphetamine over the long term may experience anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and mood disturbances and display violent behavior. They may also show symptoms of psychosis, such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects crawling under the skin). Further, a high tolerance to meth can indicate major problems with meth use and can require longer term treatment.

Illegal meth use

Meth has been used illegally since the 1950’s, when truckers, homemakers, college students and athletes used it to stay awake or keep active. This practice continued in 1960’s in subcultures such as outlaw biker gangs and students, which cooked and used the drug.

The penalties for meth possession, sale, and manufacture vary, depending on where the case was prosecuted (federal charges carry the same penalties, no matter where in the country the prosecution occurs, but each state has its own sentencing provisions). A meth conviction can result in punishments ranging from a fine, a misdemeanor jail term, or a lengthy prison term for a felony conviction. The greater the amount of meth possessed (usually measured in terms of weight), the longer the potential prison sentence tends to be. Even greater penalties apply if a person is convicted not simply of possessing meth, but of possessing it with the intent to sell or traffic it.

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Most of the methamphetamine abused in the U.S. comes from foreign or domestic superlabs, although it can also be made in small, illegal laboratories, where its production endangers the people in the labs, neighbors, and the environment. The most common ingredient in meth is 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 meth can include: ether, paint thinner, Freon®, acetone, anhydrous ammonia, iodine crystals, red phosphorus, drain cleaner, battery acid, and lithium (taken from inside batteries).

Problems with meth

There are many ways of identifying a meth addict. The most common signs are physical symptoms, mentioned earlier: decreased appetite, increased physical activity, anxiety, shaking hands, nervousness, increased body temperature and dilated pupils. These are early signs of meth use, which progress over time.

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People successfully recover from crystal meth addictions via both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. However, as this stimulant is a highly addictive drug, some people need to recover in a stable environment that’s free of opportunities to use. It’s important that you review your options and choose the program that gives you the best chance at success.

Outpatient treatment – There are two types of outpatient treatment programs. A daily check-in program only requires you to meet with a drug abuse counselor once per day, while a day treatment program requires you to stay at the treatment facility for eight hours per day. Since both programs allow little interruption to your normal life, you can continue to work and spend time with your family.

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Inpatient treatment – Inpatient treatment programs allow you to recover in an environment that’s free from temptation. The centers have medical staff on hand to help you through the detoxification process. During a stay at the facility, your day revolves around your recovery. A typical day could include group therapy sessions, individual therapy sessions, recreational activities designed to teach you how to have fun without drugs and educational lectures about drug abuse.

Meth use questions

Still have questions about meth and its use or abuse?  If you or someone close to you have meth problems, don’t hesitate to contact us; we’ll try to provide you with information on available treatments nearby, or refer your question to experts in the field of addiction treatment.

Reference Sources: Vermont State Health Department: A Brief History of Meth
NIDA: Drug Facts: Methamphetamine
NIDA: The Scope of Meth Abuse
White House: Meth Intro
U.S. Department of Justice: Meth awareness
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. My boyfriend smokes continuously there is no stopping him. I just failed a drug test and am not a user, how is this possible?
    The doctor believes I am. What do I do ? How does this happen? I’ve kicked him out of the house. I do not want this doctor to believe I have lied to him how can I prove it?

    1. Hi Christine. In most cases like this meth is not detected on a drug test, unless you were using. Being in a presence of people who smoke a lot may be absorbed by your skin, but in these cases meth has a very short half-life and will be out of your system within 48-72 hours. Also, they should be able to tell the difference between exposure and ingestion.
      For more info you can download our e-book-The Definitive Guide to Drug Testing. You can check it out here: https://addictionblog.org/ebooks/the-definitive-guide-to-drug-testing/

  2. Hi im a 46 year old male who has been useing methamphetamine to control my mental dissorder for about the past 15 years…i was diagnosed with intermitant exsplosive personality disorder …its a chemical imbalance in my brain…basicaly my brain does not produce sufficient levels of dopamine so when i get upsetandi start to get excited there is not enough dopamine in my brain to counter act the effect …as a result blackouts and violent destructive behavior fallows…the meth forces my brain to produce more dopamine…when this happens it puts me on a normal level i can think more clearly regular energy levels return and i find that when i get angry i am more able to control my behavior…i have fund that hypodermic injection with disstiled water is and has the best result…i need t find a legal medication…i collect dissabillity because of my imbalance but doctors think that i just want the meth to get hi…have tried acouple of meds…vivance…zoloft , paxil..riddelin….ect…i need help so please …any advice will be greatly considerd…thank u…

  3. Hello Nan. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy are very important in the treatment of meth addiction. I’d suggest that you start with a rehab center: you can search for (low cost) outpatient centers or even residential treatment by calling the SAMHSA drug abuse hotline: 1-800-662-HELP.

    I wish you love and courage in your journey!

  4. I used meth for almost 25years and got clean 12years ago i left my husband whom i love very muck becuse he refused to stop using, than 12years later i found myself fat and old i hadnt hadnt had any male conpaionship in over 11years well ive relapse, i dont main line anymore im just smoking it now ive lost weight and men smile at me again how do i get clean again? I dont have money to join a jim or by that healthy food it cost way to much what should i do i would rather be dead than spend the next 12years watching movies in my room (alone)

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