Methamphetamine (meth) abuse has become a huge issue in the United States with nearly 10 million Americans trying meth at least once. Meth is a stimulant drug that causes the release of dopamine and serotonin (feel-good hormones) in the brain. Meth can come in many different forms. The highly addictive illicit drug can be smoked, injected, or orally ingested.
Effects on the Body
When meth is ingested orally it produces euphoria but not an intense rush that is often accompanied by smoking and injecting meth. Oral ingestion of meth produces the desired effects within 15 to 20 minutes. This is much slower than snorting the substance in which a person can experience a high in about 3 to 5 minutes.
When a person uses meth it severely damages their vital organs. Meth causes norepinephrine (a chemical in the brain that mobilizes the brain and body for action) to be released into the body’s circulatory system and in the heart. This can lead to cardiovascular collapse secondary to ventricular fibrillation (cause the heart’s lower chambers to quiver) or even cerebral stroke (damage to the brain) and hemorrhage (bleeding) caused by the meth-induced rise in blood pressure. It can lead to rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible blood vessel damage that could result in a stroke. People who abuse meth chronically also can suffer from inflammation of the lining of the heart.
Meth has also been found to cause neurological damage because it can damage the brain’s ability to produce dopamine naturally. This may result in violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Psychotic features that meth can induce are paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, delusions, and suicidal thoughts.
Other effects eating meth has on the body are agitation, blurred vision, chest discomfort, constipation, dark-colored urine, difficulty breathing, dizziness, faintness, fever, false sense of wellbeing, headaches, muscle pain, muscle cramps, pounding in ears, restlessness, shakiness in arms, hands, or feet, swelling of feet or legs, trembling or shaking of hands, uncontrolled vocal outbursts, osteoporosis, decreased sexual function, and fatigue.
Effects on the Stomach
Ingesting meth can also have dangerous effects on the stomach. According to a case study published in the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health, a 19-year-old boy was said to have had pain in the lower right side of his stomach. The doctors found that the boy had developed ileus after orally ingesting meth. Ileus is the inability of the intestine (bowel) to contract as it is supposed to and move waste out of the body. The case study suggested this happens because when a person ingests meth the body releases dopamine and norepinephrine. The activation of the dopamine-1 receptor results in a decrease in the small bowel’s ability to contract which can lead to constipation. Finally, the article mentioned that even though meth-induced paralytic ileus is rare, given the prevalence of meth abuse in the United States, it should be a part of a physical performed by a doctor for an individual who uses meth.
A case study published in the Journal of Medicine mentioned that the abdominal complications of meth ingestion are uncommon and often ignored by doctors. Meth can block the reuptake of presynaptic norepinephrine and release the monoamine neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine rapidly and sustainably. It accumulates norepinephrine at the postsynaptic level leading to an increase in the narrowing of the arteries and a lack of blood supplied to vital organs like the gallbladder, pancreas, intestines, etc. The case study examined a 44-year-old man who was admitted into the emergency room with 2-day abdominal pain and bloody stool. The man was diagnosed with paralytic ileus, gangrenous cholecystitis with perforation (dying off of gallbladder tissue with a tear in the gallbladder), small intestinal ulceration with perforation (an ulcer in the small intestines that created a hole), and hemorrhage (profuse bleeding).
Both these case studies point to the increased need for doctors to consider the serious gastrointestinal issues that meth can cause. Meth was found in both case studies to lead to severe constipation. Severe constipation can result in a person experiencing bloody stools, lack of blood being supplied to vital organs leading to serious organ damage and dangerous ulcers.
Finding Meth Treatment
If you or a loved one is afflicted with a meth addiction finding a high-quality rehabilitation clinic can help. There are two main types of rehabilitation clinics people wishing to overcome their meth addiction can go to. Inpatient clinics are most often used in serious cases of long-term meth addiction. Outpatient clinics are used most often for mild to moderate cases of meth addiction. Both types of rehabilitation clinics combine medical treatment with various behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and the matrix model.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy changes a person’s thoughts about meth or other drugs and helps improve their ability to regulate their emotions. One cognitive-behavioral technique is learning coping strategies. Coping strategies help people learn healthy ways to deal with stressful situations such as getting exercise.
Contingency management uses motivational incentives and tangible rewards to help a person abstain from drug or alcohol use. The use of rewards triggers the release of dopamine in the brain similar to what meth does. This enabled a person recovering from meth addiction to still experience those “good feelings” without actually engaging in substance abuse to achieve them.
Some outpatient treatment centers use the matrix model in order to provide structure to the rehabilitation clinic by combining behavioral, educational, and 12-step counseling techniques. It also provides a variety of groups like relapse prevention and social support in order to provide recovering individuals with all the support necessary to overcome their addiction.
Additionally, there are currently no medications that have been proven to be effective in treating meth addiction. However, a recent study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology gives hope that there will be medications available to help overcome this debilitating addiction in the future. The antidepressant drug Bupropion is currently being used as a treatment to help people overcome their smoking addiction. This medication could be useful in relieving withdrawal symptoms and cognitive deficits in early meth abstinence. This would help individuals reduce their meth use. The study also mentioned that the drug Dextroamphetamine releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain. This drug was found to be a potentially effective treatment for meth addiction as well.
- Methamphetamine. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Methamphetamine consumption and life-threatening abdominal complications: A case report. Journal of Medicine.
- Methamphetamine-Induced Paralytic ILeus. Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health.
- Methamphetamine (Oral Route). Mayo Clinic.
- Methamphetamine Overdose. Methamphetamine and Other Illicit Drug Education.
- Pharmacological approaches to methamphetamine dependence: A focused review. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
- What does methamphetamine do to your body? Latino Health Issues Collection.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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