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What is Methamphetamine?   PDF  Print  Email 
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What is Methamphetamine?
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What are the medical complications of methamphetamine use?

Methamphetamine can cause a variety of cardiovascular problems. These include rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible, stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions occur with methamphetamine overdoses, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.

Chronic methamphetamine abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining, and among users who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses. Methamphetamine abusers also can have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Heavy users also show progressive social and occupational deterioration. Psychotic symptoms can sometimes persist for months or years after use has ceased.

Acute lead poisoning is another potential risk for methamphetamine abusers. A common method of illegal methamphetamine production uses lead acetate as a reagent. Production errors may therefore result in methamphetamine contaminated with lead. There have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous methamphetamine abusers.

Fetal exposure to methamphetamine also is a significant problem in the United States. At present, research indicates that methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may be linked also to congenital deformities.

How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, like cocaine?

Methamphetamine is classified as a psychostimulant as are such other drugs of abuse as amphetamine and cocaine. We know that methamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine and the neurotransmitter dopamine, but it is quite different from cocaine. Although these stimulants have similar behavioral and physiological effects, there are some major differences in the basic mechanisms of how they work at the level of the nerve cell. However, the bottom line is that methamphetamine, like cocaine, results in an accumulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and this excessive dopamine concentration appears to produce the stimulation and feelings of euphoria experienced by the user. In contrast to cocaine, which is quickly removed and almost completely metabolized in the body, methamphetamine has a much longer duration of action and a larger percentage of the drug remains unchanged in the body. This results in methamphetamine being present in the brain longer, which ultimately leads to prolonged stimulant effects.

Methamphetamine vs. Cocaine
Methamphetamine
Cocaine
Man-made Plant-derived
Smoking produces a high that lasts 8-24 hours Smoking produces a high that lasts 20-30 minutes
50% of the drug is removed from the body in 12 hours 50% of the drug is removed from the body in 1 hour
Limited medical use Used as a local anesthetic in some surgical procedures

Index of Terms

TermDefinition
Addiction ad·dic·tion - n. the condition of being addicted to something [trying to conquer an addiction to drugs]
Alcohol The world's most popular drug and legally used in most countries. Alcohol is produced through the fermentation of fruits, vegetables or grains.
Cocaine A bitter, crystalline drug obtained from the dried leaves of the coca shrub; it is a local anesthetic and a dangerous, illegal stimulant; the primary psychoactive ingredient in the coca plant and a behavioral-affecting drug.
Drugs Drugs essentially are poisons. The degree they are taken determines the effect. A small amount acts as a stimulant. A greater amount acts as a sedative. A larger amount acts as a poison and can kill one dead. This is true of any drug. Each has a different amount at which it gives those results.
Ice A smokable form of methamphetamines.
Marijuana A green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa.
Methamphetamine A powerfully addictive stimulant that dramatically affects the central nervous system.
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