What is Meth (Methamphetamine)? - Definition & Effects

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

What can cause your teeth to rot, sores to appear on your face and cause damage to your major organs? Methamphetamine is a stimulant with increasing popularity. This lesson will describe what is in meth and the effects of meth on users.

Definition of Meth

What is one of the most addictive drugs on the planet? A drug that can make you feel as though bugs are crawling underneath your flesh? A drug that will actually change the way your brain functions and the way you look? If you guessed methamphetamine, or meth, you are right. Meth is a man-made stimulant that can be snorted, swallowed, smoked or injected. A stimulant is a substance that can increase attention, heart rate, blood pressure, alertness and energy level.

Meth in the powder form on aluminum foil

What is Meth?

Meth has many different names including: ice, chalk, crystal, glass and trash, among others. Meth is usually made in the United States or Mexico and can be made in 'home labs' where toxic and flammable ingredients are mixed together. Because the ingredients are flammable, they can ignite when stored or mixed improperly. Meth lab fires have become more common as the demand for the drug increases.

The Health Department in Ohio is taking samples at a former meth lab to insure it is safe to tear down the building
meth lab

Some of the ingredients for meth include:

  • Hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, both can damage human tissues
  • Acetone, which is used in nail polish remover
  • Pseudophedrine, or an ingredient in cold medicine
  • Toluene, an ingredient in brake fluid
  • Lithium, used in batteries

As you can tell by the ingredient list, meth is not natural and can cause a wide array of health problems.

Effects of Meth

Let's take a closer look at some of the effects meth has on your appearance (don't worry, I'll talk about what meth does to your insides shortly).

If you've ever seen a before and after picture of a person who has become a habitual meth user, you can tell meth greatly changes a person's appearance. Meth users are often missing chunks of hair because chemicals in the drug cause hair loss. In addition, meth users tend to pick at their faces and pull out their hair.

Meth reduces the amount of blood that reaches the skin, which causes a grayish color, acne and open sores that won't heal (the open sores may, in part, be caused by the picking of the skin). Meth reduces appetite so users lose weight, including bone mass and muscle, so they appear thin and emaciated.

Meth can reduce blood flow to the skin, causing acne in some users.

Using meth reduces the amount of saliva produced, decreases blood flow to the teeth, and causes grinding, poor eating habits and a decrease in tooth brushing. All of these cause tooth decay, referred to as meth mouth.

If meth can do all that to your outward appearance, just think about what it is doing to your insides. Meth increases your body temperature and heart rate. It also can cause an irregular heartbeat that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. It can damage blood vessels and organs, including the heart, brain, liver, lungs and kidneys. If meth is injected, the user may get infections at the injection site and, if needles are shared, the user is at a greater risk of diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Long-term, meth can actually change the molecules in your brain, which can change the way you learn, the way you deal with things emotionally and can even change your motor skills. Once meth use is stopped, these changes will remain and, in some cases, be permanent.

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