When it’s ready for sale, crystal meth looks a lot like little bits of ground-up glass. It has no smell and no taste, and it can be easily crushed between the fingertips. In other words, it looks harmless. There are no dramatic symbols on the packaging and there’s nothing about the dangers of the drug that could be spotted on a visual exam. The appearance of the drug shouldn’t lull users into a false sense of security, however, as each little bit of this drug could have a deep and lasting impact on the mind and the body of the person who smokes or injects the substance.
Born in a Laboratory
Crystal meth doesn’t come from a tree or a plant, and in most cases, it isn’t made by people with sophisticated degrees in chemistry or pharmacology. Instead, the drug is often made in clandestine laboratories in rural areas by people who know a little about what the drug should do, and who have almost no concern about what the drug might do to the people who take it.
According to the Lynn Massachusetts Police Department, a batch of crystal meth is typically made by combining these ingredients:
- Cold pills containing ephedrine
- Anhydrous ammonia
- Brake fluid
- Hydrochloric acid
Put together properly, these ingredients will coalesce into small crystals that can be broken apart and sold, but each batch made can mean disaster for the surrounding environment. According to the Rural Assistance Center, each pound of methamphetamine made results in 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste. Much of that detritus is left behind when a meth lab closes up shop, and innocent children or law enforcement professionals can be exposed when they stumble into these areas. Some meth operators even dump their chemicals into local rivers or streams, or pitch their leftovers down the drain, which can pollute a community’s supply of clean drinking water.
Given this nasty ingredient list of chemicals that most people would never take on their own, and given the fact that the drug is considered a community nuisance of the first degree, it’s easy to believe that people wouldn’t take this drug. If people wouldn’t drink brake fluid or pour it into the river, they’d never take meth, right? Unfortunately, people can and do overlook the dangers and they can choose to take this very powerful drug. Some do so because they enjoy the intoxication it brings.
Meth is a powerful substance that attaches to specific receptors in the brain and triggers the release of very powerful chemicals associated with pleasure. People who take this drug often report that it makes them feel confident and incredibly happy. They may also feel very alert and awake, able to take on any challenge that might come their way. People who take this drug for euphoria may not intend to develop an addiction, and they may not set out to develop a problematic life when they first take meth. But soon, they may find that the feelings they experienced while under the influence just seem strong and powerful and too hard to ignore. They may want to feel those sensations again, and they may buy more meth to satisfy that urge.
While the euphoria meth brings about can make the drug appealing to some people, the other side effects of the drug make it an interesting choice for other people. These people may have genuine weight concerns they’ve been unable to address with conventional diet and exercise programs, or they may have underlying mental health concerns regarding the shape or size of their bodies. Meth can suppress the appetite and cause pounds to melt away as users jitter and scramble through the day. For those who want to lose weight, meth can seem like the miracle drug they’ve spent their lives looking for.
In a heartbreaking article about this issue, in Business Insider, a young teacher described her meth addiction’s roots, claiming that she had pounds to lose left behind after a divorce and was struggling with issues of belonging and self-esteem. In her words, meth helped her to lose the weight she’d been fighting against for so long. As she told the reporter, ““No different than Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig really…except my little diet really worked!” As this woman quickly found, however, the use quickly moved from something she could control into something that controlled her. It’s a feeling that people who abuse the drug for weight loss reasons know all too well.
There’s no way to separate the weight changes meth can bring about from the euphoria the drug can bring. People who take this drug experience both side effects, no matter why they’re taking the drug. An addiction also tends to progress in the same way in both sets of people.
The chemical release meth can bring about makes a user feel wonderful in the moment, but there are deeper changes taking place inside the brain with each hit taken. Receptors are turning off and chemical production decreases. Larger doses of the drug might be required to bring about the same effect. The boost from crystal might also seem smaller and smaller, and users might need to take hits closer together. Life just begins to revolve around the use and abuse of the drug.
The damage that meth can do isn’t limited to addiction either, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that meth has also been associated with:
- Decreased verbal skills
- Reduced motor skills
- Memory problems
- Rotting teeth
- Lack of impulse control
Some of this damage resolves when users get clean and stay clean for a year or longer, according to the NIDA. Other issues can be treated and ameliorated with the help of a medical or dental team. But some of the damage associated with meth use and abuse is so strong and so persistent that it lingers, even when the person is no longer taking drugs.
Some of this damage concerns the heart. Meth can cause the heart to beat in a rapid and irregular manner, and the fragile muscle cells that line the heart can buckle and break under the strain. Meth also seems to have the ability to disrupt the electrical signals that power the heart, causing it to stop beating altogether. Some people have heart attacks while under the influence of meth, as all of this damage works against them. Others die.
Crystal has also been associated with party situations in which men have sex with men. Taking meth in this setting seems to allow partners to seek out one another, and the encounters they have seem just a little more pleasant. Unfortunately, according to a study in the Journal of Homosexuality, meth can also reduce the ability of a person to make good decisions about the future. Men in this environment might engage in risky sexual behaviors while under the influence, as a result of the influence of meth, and they may be at a greater risk of developing incurable HIV/AIDS infections. These problems can be treated, of course, but they might never really go away, and meth is to blame.
As mentioned, people with an addiction to crystal meth rarely set out to ruin their lives and develop a compulsive use disorder. But, they may also find it hard to simply stop their behaviors once they’ve started. Any underlying conditions like mental illness or eating disorders can also play a destructive role, keeping a person locked into a poor behavior. Therapy can help, however, as treatment allows people to develop a holistic view of their addictions and their habits.
At Futures of Palm Beach, we’ve seen hundreds of people heal from meth addictions, and we’d like to help you too. We offer programs for people with addictions and for those who have co-occurring disorders and addictions. Either may be a good fit for you, if you’re dealing with meth. Please call us to find out more about what we offer and how we can help.