Crystal meth, also known as methamphetamine, is a powerful drug which comes from the amphetamine family.
Meth is a synthetic drug, which means that it is made using a mixture of chemicals. These include ammonia and battery acid. These chemicals give it a strong smell, sometimes compared to vinegar. Pure meth appears as a white powder, but street meth often looks yellow or brown in colour due to lower purity levels.
Meth can be taken in a number of ways, including snorting, injecting, smoking and inhaling via the nose.
It makes users feel more energetic and more intelligent. Its effects can last for as long as sixteen hours, although some meth users go on binges which can last for several days.
Crystal meth is very addictive. It causes the brain to release a huge rush of dopamine, far in excess of the dopamine released during a cocaine high. Once someone has experienced this rush, it is very difficult to resist taking meth again.
What is crystal meth?
Crystal meth is an illegal drug that goes by many names, including crank, glass, crystal, blade, quick, ice and chalk. It is a stimulant, and is often used by people at clubs, raves and parties.
Meth is nearly always produced illegally. A controlled version of methamphetamine is sometimes prescribed for ADHD, under the brand name Desoxyn, but this is a rare clinical application for a drug that is illegal in the majority of countries.
The fact that meth is mostly produced illegally means that its levels of purity vary considerably. It can also contain other toxic chemicals which may harm the user.
Long-term meth use can bring about serious mental and physical health problems.
Legal status of crystal meth
Crystal meth is a Class A drug in the UK, which means that possession, use and supply all carry significant punishments.
Meth was a Class B drug in the UK until 2006, when it was upgraded to Class A after a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. 
Due to its devastating effects, crystal meth is illegal in most countries, apart from Italy and Portugal, where it is legal for personal use.
Crystal meth in the UK and abroad
Meth is not as readily available in the UK as other, more popular drugs like cannabis and cocaine. According to government statistics, only 0.03% of respondents admitted to having used meth in the last year, when asked during a 2018/19 survey. For comparison, 7.6% of respondents to the same survey said they had used cannabis in the last year. 
Meth is more popular in America. 1.6 million people (0.6% of the population) admitted to having used meth in the last year as part of the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). New users of meth in the US had an average age (in 2016) of 23.3 years, a worrying statistic that suggests that meth use may be becoming more prevalent among young people. 
Crystal meth use is also prevalent in Australia. Former PM Tony Abbott described meth use as an ‘epidemic’ in 2015.  When polled in a 2019 survey, 5.8% of Australians said they had used meth in their lifetimes, and 1.3% said they had used it in the last year.  Read more about crystal meth use in Australia here.
What causes crystal meth addiction?
Crystal meth addiction, like most addictions, can be caused by a variety of things. Factors which may contribute to addiction include genetic predisposition to addiction, difficult upbringing, mental illness, trauma and poverty.
One interesting study looked at the link between a person’s genes and their meth addiction. You can read more about it here.
What are the effects of crystal meth in the short term?
The short-term effects of meth include:
- Meth causes the brain to release a huge amount of dopamine, making users feel energetic and happy.
- It increases powers of concentration, which can lead users to focus on one thing for hours on end without noticing the passage of time.
- Meth diminishes feelings of hunger, which means that users often go without food for hours.
- It disrupts sleeping patterns, making it very difficult for users to get to sleep.
- It makes users feel powerful, and can make people aggressive. It also makes people more irritable.
- Meth has been known to make people physically stronger, and give them delusions and paranoia. You can read the testimony of one doctor here, who describes struggling with unruly, hallucinating patients who were high on meth.
What are the effects of crystal meth in the long term?
There are several negative effects of meth use in the long term, which include mental and physical problems.
- One major physical problem is the damage to the heart caused by meth use. Meth puts a lot of strain on the heart, which can lead to deterioration of blood vessels and high blood pressure. In the long run, this raises the chances of a stroke.
- Meth use also damages the kidney, liver and lungs. Read more about meth-induced kidney failure here.
- If snorted, long term meth use can lead to the erosion of nasal tissues, something which is also seen in long-term cocaine addicts.
- If smoked, meth use can lead to problems with the lungs and respiratory system.
- If injected, there is a higher risk of infectious diseases, especially if users share their needles with other users.
- Even in the short term, meth use can lead to severe weight loss; in the long term meth users are likely to suffer from malnutrition and mineral and vitamin deficiencies. This is why nutrition forms such an important part of recovery.
- ‘Meth mouth’ or tooth decay caused by crystal meth use is another problem which users are likely to encounter in the long term.
- The powerful effect which meth has on the brain is likely to lead to problems with concentration further down the line. It may also cause more severe mental issues such as confusion and memory loss.
- Over long periods, the powerful addictive nature of meth is likely to lead to severe dependence. This has further consequences, such as an inability to hold down a job, damage to relationships, and damage to mental health.
- Mental health problems caused by long-term meth use include depression and psychosis.
- Users may also experience problems with memory and understanding which resemble Alzheimer’s. 
What are the signs of crystal meth use?
There are lots of signs to look out if you suspect that someone may have a crystal meth addiction. We list the main ones below.
- Being more irritable
- Persistent cough or hoarseness (this can come about as a result of smoking meth)
- Rapid changes in mood, alternating from extreme happiness to severe depression
- High levels of aggression and hostility
- Signs of needle usage on the arms, legs, hands and neck.
- Problems with breathing
- Skin abscesses or infections of the skin
What are the symptoms of meth use?
Meth addiction can cause mental, physical and behavioural symptoms. Here are some of the main ones:
Mental/psychological symptoms of meth addiction
- Agitation and aggression
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Emotions of hopelessness, guilt and shame
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Impaired judgement
- Rapid mood swings
- Struggling to make decisions
- Worsening of any existing mental health conditions
Physical symptoms of meth addiction
- Bruised or scabbed skin
- Dilated pupils
- Higher heart rate and body temperature
- Infections to the mouth, teeth, and gums
- Needing more and more meth to feel the same high (developing a tolerance)
- Rapid eye movement
- Red skin
- Twitching without warning
- Weight loss
- Withdrawal symptoms
Behavioural symptoms of meth addiction
- Using meth even though you know it is harming you
- A sense that meth is the only thing you care about
- Devoting large amounts of time to procuring and taking meth
- Doing dangerous, criminal things while under the influence of meth (e.g. driving under the influence).
- Becoming less interested in activities or hobbies that you used to enjoy
- Neglecting duties and responsibilities e.g. looking after children, going to work
- Taking more and more meth, in a manner that is becoming harder to control
- Trying and failing to quit meth
- Taking less care of your appearance
- Touching and picking at your skin obsessively
- Telling lies to your friends and family in order to hide your meth use
- Isolating yourself from loved ones
- Spending time only with other meth users
What happens when you take meth?
The crystal meth experience has several distinct stages, which include the following:
- The first stage is sometimes known as ‘the rush’. This is the feeling which users get straight after taking crystal meth. It causes a raised heart rate and higher blood pressure. This stage can last for up to thirty minutes. It precedes the main high, which can last for several hours.
- The main high, or ‘shoulder’, comes after the rush. This period is when the well-known effects of meth really start to kick in. During the main high, users feel faster, smarter and stronger. They may be inclined to talk over people, much as cocaine users tend to do. Periods of intense focus are also common during this stage. The main high can last anywhere between four and sixteen hours, depending on the amount of meth taken, tolerance, body weight and so on.
- Due to the severity of the meth comedown, users are likely to engage in ‘bingeing’ – taking more and more meth in order to sustain a high. A meth binge can last as long as a fortnight, after which the body’s supply of dopamine and serotonin is so low that crystal meth fails to produce any effect. Bingeing on meth is incredibly dangerous as it pushes the body to its limits. Binges are often accompanied by a period of little to no food consumption, which can leave users very malnourished.
- After the binge comes ‘tweaking’. This is by far the worst stage of the meth experience. When someone is tweaking, they are coming down from meth, and are unable to postpone the comedown any longer since taking more meth no longer has any effect. This comedown is often accompanied by feelings of intense itchiness, with users reporting the sensation of insects under the skin. It is very difficult to sleep during the tweaking phase, so users are also likely to stay awake for days at a time. Hallucinations are common. Combined with aggression, this makes meth users in the ‘tweaking’ stage a potential danger to people around them.
- After the tweaking stage, meth users are likely to experience a crash, where the body effectively shuts down. When tweaking, it is very difficult for meth users to get any sleep; during the crash phase, the body compensates for this by sending the meth user into a deep sleep that can last as long as three days.
- Once the meth user comes back to consciousness, they enter the hangover period. This period is characterised by feelings of total exhaustion, on every level. This is due to a depletion of dopamine and serotonin, as well as a lack of food, water and sleep over an extended period. The hangover period lasts between two and fourteen days. Some users choose to end this hangover period by taking more meth, a choice which starts the cycle all over again.
- Finally, after the hangover has come to an end, meth users will start to go into withdrawal. Meth withdrawal can be very severe, with depression and suicidal ideation common among many users going through this stage.
Meth withdrawal and the threat of relapse
Studies have shown that relapse rates for crystal meth are relatively high, with 61% of people relapsing in the first year after being discharged from treatment, and 25% in the following 2-5 years. 
One of the main contributing factors for this statistic is the difficulty of going through meth withdrawal. Without medical supervision and support, withdrawal can seem like an impossible mountain to climb. Many choose to take the easy option and simply go back to using meth.
However, with meth rehab, meth users stand a better chance of getting clean and staying clean. In meth rehab, you get support and medication to help you through detox, followed by therapy to treat the underlying causes of your addiction. This sets you up for a life without drugs.
Inpatient vs outpatient meth rehab
If you are willing to stop using meth, and want to start a sober life, then going to rehab is a very good option.
There are two main kinds of rehab for crystal meth: inpatient and outpatient.
Inpatient rehab is residential rehab, where you live at the rehab for the duration of your treatment. This carries several advantages. For one, you can access medical care around the clock, which will help you to deal with some of the withdrawal symptoms that go hand-in-hand with meth detox, such as psychosis, itchiness under the skin, and depression. Medical staff at the facility are trained to deal with such withdrawal symptoms, and will be able to offer support and medication to help you overcome them.
Another advantage of inpatient meth rehab is that it takes you away from your home environment. At home, you may have triggers and stressors that make you more likely to use meth, such as difficult relationships, or friendships with other meth users. At inpatient rehab, there is very little that can tempt you to return to old habits.
However, inpatient meth rehab is more expensive, and takes up more time. For those who are looking for a cheaper, more time-efficient form of rehab, outpatient rehab is worth considering.
Outpatient rehab means staying at home while you go through treatment for crystal meth addiction. In this form of rehab, you go to an outpatient facility for three or four hours a day for rehab and medical appointments.
Outpatient rehab does have some advantages, but for crystal meth addiction you should be aware of the dangers of relapse. Outpatient rehab may be cheaper in the short-term, but this could prove to be a false economy if you relapse straight away.
Crystal meth addiction is a terrible form of substance dependency, which can destroy people’s lives.
However, if you are dealing with a meth addiction, do not give up hope. There are good treatment options available to you. You just need to take the first step and reach out for help.