(Crystal Meth)

Note: Information about methamphetamine is intended for the teacher’s information only rather than for use with students, unless local data indicate otherwise.

  • Methamphetamine (called speed, crystal meth, ice, or crank) is often grouped with substances referred to as amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), which also include ecstasy and amphetamine.3 Among ATS, methamphetamine has a particularly high potential for abuse and addiction.
  • Methamphetamine can be found in powder form or in a waxy form known as “base,” “paste,” “wax” or “point.” “Crystal” or “ice” (d- methamphetamine hydrochloride) is usually a clear crystal of high purity that consists of a recrystallized powder. Methamphetamine can also be sold in capsules or tablets, generally referred to as speed in this form.
  • The “high” experienced when using methamphetamine has been compared to that of cocaine, though methamphetamine is relatively cheap when compared to cocaine, and the effects last much longer.4

    Immediate and short-term effects and harms
  • At low doses, effects generally include increased alertness and energy, a feeling of well-being, decreased appetite, rapid heart beat and breathing, increased blood pressure, sweating, dilated pupils, elevated body temperatures, and dry mouth.
  • At higher doses, a person may experience euphoria and a sense of feeling powerful and superior. Other effects include more intense sexual pleasure and endurance, becoming talkative, restless, excited, aggressive, or paranoid, or behaving in a bizarre, repetitive fashion. The positive attributes of crystal methamphetamine most cited by one sample of users are energy, aphrodisiac, sociability, euphoria, and loss of inhibitions. Weight loss may be experienced, which is often seen as a benefit, by women especially.
  • Later in the high there is a state of agitation that can lead to violence in some. Problems and negative features often mentioned by users in two studies include the comedown, paranoia, inability to sleep, hallucinations, weight loss, and aggression. 5 6

    Effects and harms from long-term use
  • Malnourishment may occur, because these drugs suppress the appetite.
  • Amphetamine psychosis, which can include paranoia and sensation of insects crawling on the skin, usually ends upon stopping use; however, a small percentage fail to recover completely (they may have had mental health problems before starting to use amphetamines).7 8
  • Violent tendencies that are linked to psychosis are quite common among long-term users.9 Violence, accidental or otherwise, is the leading cause of amphetamine-related deaths.
  • Depression, cognitive difficulties, such as problems with abstract thought, capacity to learn and retain new information, and verbal competency, and memory problems may occur.
  • Sexual dysfunction, an inability to achieve or maintain an erection, may result, leading to simultaneous use of erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra by some. Rough sex presents a risk of bleeding and infection from blood-borne diseases.
  • High rates of HIV are found among gay and bisexual meth/amphetamine injection drug users, a result of needle sharing, an increased number of partners, and increased rates and incidence of unprotected sex.
  • Physical damage may include dental erosion, skin lesions, lung problems from smoking, inflammation of heart lining, and damage to dopamine- and serotonin-related brain cells.10
  • Social problems associated with the used of methamphetamine include family strain/breakup, severe legal penalties, sex trade/drug dealing/petty criminal activity for drug money, unplanned pregnancy among women, and isolation due to criminality.
  • Overdose can cause delusions, hallucinations, high fever, delirium, seizures, coma, stroke, heart failure, and in rare cases, death. Death can result from use as a consequence of burst blood vessels in the brain, heart failure, or very high fever.
  • To find the desired effects, users may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their method of drug intake, with dependence often the result.
  • Withdrawal effects include sleeping disturbances (nightmares, either sleeping a lot or hardly at all) shakiness, increased appetite, irritability, depression (which may last for months after the last binge), anxiety, and craving for the drug.

    Effects on the community and the environment
  • Threat to safety of home occupants, first responders, and neighbours may be caused by clandestine labs in residential areas, especially since labs are usually discovered following a mysterious explosion or fire. Residents may lack a sense of public safety.
  • Environmental harms may be caused by the production of methamphetamine and the disposal of the resulting waste. The chemicals involved are corrosive, explosive, flammable, and toxic.
  • There are the economic impacts associated with community resources being diverted to deal with these issues and with reduced real estate values.

    Methamphetamine and the law
    In 2005, methamphetamine was moved from Schedule III of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to Schedule I of the act, which provides access to the highest maximum penalties. The maximum penalty for production and distribution of methamphetamine has increased from 10 years to life in prison.
    A number of jurisdictions in Canada and the US have introduced legislation to limit the availability of “precursor” chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine.

    Use of methamphetamine in Nova Scotia
    Nova Scotia students were asked about methamphetamine (also known as crystal meth or speed) for the first time in 2007. Among Nova Scotia high school students, 1.6 percent said they had used methamphetamine in the past year.

    The use of this methamphetamine does not follow the typical trend of use increasing as the grade increases. In grade 7, 1.1 percent reported use, 2.4 percent in grade 9, 2.2 percent in grade 10 and dropping to 0.8 percent in grade 12.

3. Deguire A.E. (2005). Methamphetamine. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
4. Zickler P. (2004). Long-term abstinence brings partial recovery from methamphetamine damage. NIDA Notes 19(4). http://www.drugabuse.gov/NIDA_notes/NNvol19N4/LongTerm.html
5. Brecht M.L., O’Brien A., von Mayrhauser C., & Anglin M.D. (2004). Methamphetamine use behaviors and gender differences. Addictive Behaviors 29(1):89-106.
6. Degenhardt L., Barker B., & Topp L. (2004). Patterns of ecstasy use in Australia: Findings from a national household survey. Addiction, 99(2): 187–195.
7. Srisurapanont M., Kittirattanapaiboon P., & Jarusuraisin N. (2005). Treatment for amphetamine psychosis. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. The Cochrane Library, 3.
8. McKetin R. & McLaren, J. (2004). The methamphetamine situation in Australia: A review of routine data sources. Perth, AU: NDARC Technical Report No. 172.
9. Ibid.
10. It is not yet clear whether this damage reverses itself upon quitting.