What is methamphetamine (meth)?
Also known as: Chalk, Meth, Speed, and Tina; or, for crystal meth, Crank, Fire, Glass, Go fast, and Ice
Methamphetamine—known as “meth”— is a laboratory-made, white, bitter-tasting powder. Sometimes it’s made into a white pill or a shiny, white or clear rock called crystal. Meth is made in the United States and often in Mexico—in “superlabs”—big, illegal laboratories that make the drug in large quantities. But it is also made in small labs using cheap, over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, which is a common ingredient in cold medicines. Drug stores often put these products behind the counter so people cannot use them to create meth in home labs. Other chemicals, some of them toxic, are also involved in making methamphetamine. Meth is sometimes pressed into little pills that look like Ecstasy to make it more appealing to young people.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug. Stimulants are a class of drugs that can boost mood, increase feelings of well-being, increase energy, and make you more alert. But they also have dangerous effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure, and use can lead to addiction. Methamphetamine’s pleasurable effects can disappear even before the drug levels fall in the blood, leading people to use more and more, sometimes not sleeping and using the drug for several days.
Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and is legally available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. It is prescribed by doctors in limited doses in rare cases for certain medical conditions.
How Methamphetamine Is Used
- injected with a needle
“Crystal meth” is a large, usually clear crystal that is smoked in a glass pipe. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate and intense high. Because the feeling doesn’t last long, users often take the drug repeatedly, in a “binge and crash” pattern.
All drugs change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters, telling us how to act and behave. These neurotransmitters attach to molecules on neurons called receptors. (Learn more about how neurotransmitters work.)
There are many neurotransmitters, but dopamine is the one that reinforces cravings for pleasurable behaviors, like eating a piece of chocolate cake or playing a video game. With repeated use, stimulants like methamphetamine can disrupt how the brain’s dopamine system works, reducing a person’s ability to feel pleasure from normal, everyday activities. People will often develop tolerance, which means they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect. If a person becomes addicted, they might take the drug just to feel “normal.”
After the “high” of methamphetamine wears off, many people experience a “crash” and feel tired or sad for days. They also experience a strong craving to take methamphetamine again to try to feel better.
Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.
Is methamphetamine addictive?
Yes. Methamphetamine use can quickly lead to addiction. That’s when people seek out the drug over and over, even after they want to stop and even after it has caused damage to their health and other parts of their life.
Methamphetamine causes tolerance—when a person needs to take more of it to get the same high. People who usually eat or snort meth might start to smoke or inject it to get a stronger, quicker high.
People who try to quit using methamphetamine might experience very uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal. They might:
- get really tired but have trouble sleeping
- feel angry or nervous
- feel depressed
- feel a very strong craving to use methamphetamine
What should I do if someone I know needs help?
If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don’t just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by)
If you want to help a friend, you can:
- Share resources from this site, including this page.
- Point your friend to NIDA’s Step by Step Guide for Teens and Young Adults.
- Encourage your friend to speak with a trusted adult.
If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.
For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.
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