an addictive stimulant drug that strongly activates certain systems in the
brain. Methamphetamine is closely related chemically to amphetamine, but the
central nervous system effects of methamphetamine are greater. Both drugs have
some limited therapeutic uses, primarily in the treatment of obesity.
made in illegal laboratories and has a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Street methamphetamine is referred to by many names, such as "speed," "meth,"
and "chalk." Methamphetamine hydrochloride, clear chunky crystals resembling
ice, which can be inhaled by smoking, is referred to as "ice," "crystal,"
"glass," and "tina."
releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which stimulates brain
cells, enhancing mood and body movement. It also appears to have a neurotoxic
effect, damaging brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, another
neurotransmitter. Over time, methamphetamine appears to cause reduced levels of
dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson's disease, a
severe movement disorder.
taken orally or intranasally (snorting the powder), by intravenous injection,
and by smoking. Immediately after smoking or intravenous injection, the
methamphetamine user experiences an intense sensation, called a "rush" or
"flash," that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely
pleasurable. Oral or intranasal use produces euphoria—a high, but not a rush.
Users may become addicted quickly, and use it with increasing frequency and in
going back more than 20 years shows that high doses of methamphetamine damage
neuron cell endings. Dopamine- and serotonin-containing neurons do not die after
methamphetamine use, but their nerve endings ("terminals") are cut back, and
regrowth appears to be limited.
The central nervous
system (CNS) actions that result from taking even small amounts of
methamphetamine include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity,
decreased appetite, increased respiration, hyperthermia, and euphoria. Other CNS
effects include irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions,
anxiety, paranoia, and aggressiveness. Hyperthermia and convulsions can result
causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage
to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes. Other effects of
methamphetamine include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, and extreme
anorexia. Its use can result in cardiovascular collapse and death.
Extent of Use
Monitoring the Future Study (MTF)*
MTF assesses the
extent of drug use among adolescents (8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders) and young
adults across the country. Recent data from the survey indicate the following:
In 2003, 6.2
percent of high school seniors had reported lifetime** use of methamphetamine,
statistically unchanged from 6.9 percent in 2001. Lifetime use was measured at
5.2 percent of 10th grade students and 3.9 percent of 8th-graders.
remained stable at 3.3 percent in 2003 among 10th-graders and at 3.2 percent
Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG)**
Results reported at
the most recent CEWG meeting indicate that methamphetamine abuse and production
continue at high levels in Hawaii, west coast areas, and some southwestern areas
of the United States—but methamphetamine abuse also is continuing to spread
eastward to urban, suburban, and rural areas at a pace unrivaled by any other
drug in recent times.
The percentage of
adult male arrestees testing methamphetamine-positive increased in 10 CEWG areas
between 2001 and 2003. The percentages were highest in Honolulu (43.8 percent),
San Diego (36.7), Phoenix (38.5), Los Angeles (14.8), and Seattle (10.9).
Several other items
of significance were reported, as follows:
In 2002, 46 percent
of the 15,676 methamphetamine lab incidents were reported in 9 sites located in
middle America: Missouri (2,788), Iowa (862), Kansas (763), Oklahoma (595),
Tennessee (560), Illinois (551), Arkansas (398), Kentucky (372), and Nebraska
In the first 6
months of 2003, more than 56 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions in
Hawaii were for primary methamphetamine abuse. San Diego followed, with nearly
Some MDMA (ecstasy)
and cocaine users are switching to methamphetamine, ignorant of its severe
In many gay clubs
found throughout New York City and elsewhere, methamphetamine is often used in
an injectable form, placing users and their partners at risk for transmission of
HIV, hepatitis C, and other STDs.
Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)****
According to the
2002 NSDUH, 12.4 million Americans age 12 and older had tried methamphetamine at
least once in their lifetimes (5.3 percent of the population), with the majority
of past-year users between 18 and 34 years of age.
* These data are from the
2003 Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, and conducted by the University of
Michigan's Institute for Social Research. The survey has tracked 12th-graders'
illicit drug use and related attitudes since 1975; in 1991, 8th- and
10th-graders were added to the study. The latest data are online at
** "Lifetime" refers to use
at least once during a respondent's lifetime. "Annual" refers to use at least
once during the year preceding an individual's response to the survey. "30-day"
refers to use at least once during the 30 days preceding an individual's
response to the survey.
CEWG is a NIDA-sponsored
network of researchers from 21 major U.S. metropolitan areas and selected
foreign countries who meet semiannually to discuss the latest epidemiology of
drug abuse. CEWG's most recent reports are available at
**** NSDUH (formerly known
as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse) is an annual survey conducted by
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Findings from the
latest survey are available at www.samhsa.gov.