Meth abuse in the United States is gaining popularity once again. It may pay us to refresh our memories about the many dangers of this drug. Methamphetamine floods the brain’s limbic system with up to 10 times the body’s maximum level of dopamine, drowning the brain in pleasure and euphoria. Norepinephrine cascades through the mind, inducing alertness and anti-fatigue. Ingesting one-fourth a gram of crystal methamphetamine, a close cousin to speed, can introduce a high that may last up to 12 hours. What are some of the meth abuse dangers you should know?
What goes up must come down. Paranoia, anxiety, lethargy, hypersomnia, and psychosis are typical results. The brain has consumed all its dopamine and is no longer capable of feeling happy. First-time users have been known to curl up on a bed and sob for hours as severe depression ensues. The stories about meth abuse and its effects are not overly-exaggerated.
Then comes the hook. Research shows that the initial decision to take meth is made in the prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain that handles deliberate choices. By the second or third hit, the decision migrates to the hindbrain, the part that controls involuntary actions. Addiction moves in, and for roughly half of the recreational meth users, addiction never moves out.
History About Meth Abuse
Methamphetamine was first synthesized in Japan in 1893. It and its cousin, amphetamine, wafted around the medical world for the next half-century. Amphetamines were used as asthma inhalants, decongestants, anti-depression pills and diet pills.
Then Germany invaded Poland, and meth found its open the door to the spotlight. During World War II, Nazis distributed amphetamines in hopes of creating Aryan super soldiers. The American military popped amphetamines in the trenches to keep awake. Japanese kamikaze pilots took a hit to steel themselves for their last dive into the Inferno. Meth went worldwide riding on the backs of machine gun bullets and airplane propellers,
Meth in the Modern World
Today, methamphetamine is exploding in Asia. It is a drug of choice in Japan and China, and in parts of North Korea, some estimate that 40-50 percent of all adults are addicted to the drug. In the United States, following years of decline from 2002 to 2008, meth is on the rebound. Mobile “shake-n-bake” meth labs have sprouted in Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona, and other states in the Upper South, Midwest and West Coast. Most of the substance is produced in California and across the Mexican border. The estimated number of adults ages 12 and older who used methamphetamine within the past month increased 60 percent from 2008 and 2009.
Why the sudden increase in popularity? Listen to economics. At the end of 2009, a gram of crystal meth cost about $111, its lowest national average since 2005. For comparison, a meth junkie may consume a gram per day. As costs plummeted, average national drug purity increased to its highest peak ever: 73 percent. Low price plus more purity equals high demand.
Who Uses Meth?
One-quarter of crystal meth users are under 18. Almost four-fifths are under 30. Meth caters to three demographic categories: Partying students, overworked professionals, and jobless blue-collar youth. Both men and women are at equal risk for addiction.
Methamphetamine is a popular “group” drug, often smoked, snorted or injected by friends. Smoking is most efficient, but it takes time to inhale a full hit. Injecting or snorting the drug extracts fewer of its potent chemicals, but the sudden kick of a complete hit compensates.
The Chronic Effects of Crystal Meth Abuse
One of the main things about meth abuse is that it is a drug of extremes. A high can unleash three times the euphoria of crack cocaine, while a “bad trip,” caused by a dirty product or excessive neurotransmitter suppression, can create:
- Tooth grinding.
- Shaking and seizures.
- Extreme agitation.
- Dilated pupils and photophobia.
Chronic health effects include:
- “Meth Mouth,” comprised of festering sores, rotting teeth, and dried gum tissue.
- Self-inflicted wounds caused when users, because of excessive norepinephrine, pick their skin and feel like ants swarm just beneath.
- Paranoia, caused by the inevitable depression of a comedown.
- Irreparable neurotoxic brain damage, potentially leading to psychotic episodes, flashback hallucinations and Parkinson’s disease.
- Hepatitis C, HIV, and other STDs, caused by unsterilized needles and unsafe sex.
Escaping Martyrdom: Know the Meth Abuse Dangers
Meth takes few prisoners. Unlike crack cocaine, the drug lingers in the brain far after a high, shooting down nerve terminals essential for the central nervous system. Eventually, inevitably, a meth junkie will not be able to feel pleasure without artificial stimulation by ever-increasing doses of the drug.
The preferred method of treatment is inpatient rehabilitation. It usually lasts for 30-90 days and is often followed by outpatient and aftercare services. Withdrawal symptoms may continue for eight months. Inpatient treatment:
- Nurtures hope.
- Reduces craving.
- Manages withdrawal symptoms.
- Fosters participation in group programs.
So be content with your brain, and remember: You only get one.