Methamphetamine has been and remains one of the most widely abused illicit drugs among people in Southern California and across the United States. Meth use can have a significant impact on a user’s body. Understanding the impacts on the human body puts the dangers of meth into sharp focus.
Meth and the Brain
A long-running television commercial featured an egg and then the egg in a frying pan. The script referenced the untouched egg as a person’s brain. The egg in the frying pan was identified as an individual’s brain on drugs. The stark reality is that when considering the impact of meth on the brain, an egg on a griddle is an apt description. Indeed, the most significant impact meth has on the human body is in regard to the brain.
What some might call “on the positive side” of the equation, meth causes a significant surge of dopamine in a person’s brain that results in a rush of pleasure and an extended sense of euphoria.
Richard Rawson of the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs explains that a meth user will feel the immediate pleasurable effects of the drug for several minutes. The euphoric high lasts for somewhere between six to 12 hours. Rawson notes that “methamphetamine produces the mother of all dopamine releases.”
The positive side of the equation was intentionally placed in quotes because in the shorter and longer term that rush or pleasure and feeling of euphoria is not to be long-lived. In fact, when the feelings of pleasure and euphoria subside, meth users find themselves chasing the next high. They will seek out the next “dose” of meth to repeat the pleasurable sensations they experienced. In order to achieve this high, over time they need more and more of the highly addictive drug.
When it comes to the impact of meth on the brain, over time the use of the drug will destroy dopamine receptors. This destruction makes it impossible to experience pleasure.
Damage to the brain’s pleasure centers is thought to be able to heal over time if a person stops using meth. On the other hand, research suggests that meth can cause permanent damage to a person’s cognitive abilities. Cognitive abilities are the mental process associated with knowing, including:
Finally, when it comes to the impact meth has on the human brain, chronic abuse of this powerful drug can also result in:
- Psychotic behavior
- Extreme aggression
Indeed, the impact on a person’s brain can be so profound that a chronic meth user can end up dead.
When it comes to the manner in which meth impacts the human body in the way of its outward appearance, special attention must be paid to what oftentimes is referred to as “meth mouth.” Because most people do not use meth, and because most chronic meth users ultimately are uninterested in what is happening to them physically, there is a considerable degree of misinformation surrounding the impact of meth on the mouth, particularly a chronic user’s teeth.
Meth mouth is identified primarily by discolored, broken, and rotting teeth. There are a number of primary underlying causes of meth mouth. It is important to note that while meth mouth primarily is associated with chronic users of this highly hazardous drug, the fact is that meth mouth can begin to develop when an individual uses meth for only a short period of time.
Researchers are still investigating what causes meth mouth. There is a general consensus that multiple factors likely come into play in regard to a “typical” case of meth mouth. Meth mouse can occur when a person smokes or snorts the drug.
First, the use of meth causes the salivary glands to “dry out.” The lack of saliva flowing into a person’s mouth has a number of negative consequences. Among them is that digestive-related acid that naturally ends up in the mouth isn’t flushed away. This results in an aggressive eating away of the enamel on a meth user’s teeth, resulting in profound decay.
Second, there is also evidence that a number of chemicals contained in meth are part of the harmful cocktail that destroys teeth and results in meth mouth. The primary chemicals that underpin meth mouth are:
- Anhydrous ammonia (found in fertilizer)
- Red phosphorus (found on matchboxes)
- Lithium (found in batteries)
Third, chronic use of meth causes blood vessels to shrink. In turn, this limits the steady flow of blood to mouth tissues, this blood supply being vital for proper oral health.
Fourth, there are side effects of meth use that contribute to meth mouth. These include:
- Compulsive teeth grinding
- Strong desire for sugary foods and beverages
- Failure to engage in proper oral hygiene practices
When it comes to oral hygiene, it is not at all uncommon for a chronic meth user to go days or even weeks without so much as brushing his or her teeth, let alone flossing. Once meth mouth begins to set it, a meth user is apt to abandon basic, essential oral hygiene practices altogether.
Meth, Skin, and Outward Appearance
Before and after pictures of people who’ve chronically used meth abound. The most obvious skin-related issues and those associated more generally associated with chronic meth use include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Hair loss
- Skin cuts, tears, abrasions
Damage to the skin in the form of cuts, tears, abrasions, and scrapes many times arises from hallucinations and psychosis associated with chronic meth use. For example, a common scenario is for a chronic meth user to “see” bugs crawling under the skin and scrape into the flesh to “remove” the “insects.”
Sex, Meth, and Health Consequences
Researchers have paid attention to a linkage between the use of meth and reckless sexual conduct. During the past couple of decades, meth addiction and reckless sexual conduct has been identified as a particular problem among a cohort of gay men. The mix of meth and reckless sex heightens the risk of spread of:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Other Ways Meth Impacts the Body
In addition to the various ways meth affects a user’s body discusses so far, other impacts include:
- Lowered resistance to illness
- Liver damage
- Extreme rise in body temperatures that can cause brain damage
Active Meth Use Versus Passive Exposure to Meth Contamination
The vast majority of health consequences associated with meth are associated with the active use of the drug. With that said, passive exposure to a space contaminated by meth can also result in health consequences, including serious ones.
For this reason, if meth contamination is suspected, appropriate professional testing should be undertaken to confirm the presence of meth in a home or other structure. If contamination is identified, professional meth decontamination or meth remediation is a must.