What major health concerns can result from methamphetamine use?
Methamphetamine can cause permanent changes in the brain and other parts of the body. It can lead to serious long-term health issues, including:
- damage to the heart
- high blood pressure
- mental health conditions
- tooth decay and gum disease
If someone uses methamphetamine while pregnant, the baby may be born prematurely with low birth weight. The baby may experience methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms, such as inability to sleep and poor feeding habits. The symptoms could start within 24 hours and may last from 7-10 days; the chances increase if the drug is used late in the pregnancy. Obstetrician expertise and support is strongly recommended.
What does a person experience when taking methamphetamine?
Since methamphetamine is a stimulant, people who use this drug often feel like they are more alert and have more energy. They often do not feel the need to eat or sleep.
Methamphetamine affects each person differently, depending on:
- the person’s age and weight
- how much of the drug is taken and how often
- whether other substances, such as alcohol, are consumed with methamphetamine
In addition to the long-term negative health effects listed above, there are many other possible negative side effects of methamphetamine use, including:
- feeling confused, paranoid, or irritable
- angry outbursts
- muscle spasms
- problems with thinking, memory, concentration, and coordination
- skin sores from scratching and picking at the skin due to the feeling of “bugs” under the skin
- difficulty sleeping
- racing heart or sudden elevated blood pressure
How long do the effects of methamphetamine last?
In most cases, the effects of the drug last for about six to eight hours. If methamphetamine is smoked, the effects may last for 10-12 hours. After the drug wears off, the person may often feel very tired and depressed.
What are the signs and symptoms of a toxic reaction to methamphetamine?
A person who is having a toxic reaction to methamphetamine may have one or more of these signs and symptoms:
- confusion about where they are, who they are with, or what day or time it is
- agitation (pacing, opening and closing their fists, unable to sit still)
- clenching their jaw and grinding their teeth
- stiffness in their arms and legs or loss of ability to control their arms or legs
- complaints of headaches (mild to severe)
- struggles to breathe
- fever, including skin that feels hot with sweating or shivering
- complaints of racing heart, chest pain or heart attack
- feeling of numbness on one side of the body
- rapid eye movements in many directions
- loss of vision in one eye
- feelings of being watched or chased by someone
- hearing voices or seeing things or people that are not there
- feeling of bugs crawling on their skin with the need to scratch or pick at their skin aggressively
- loss of consciousness
- violent and aggressive behaviour
What should you do if you think someone may be having a toxic reaction to methamphetamine?
Create a safe environment for both of you:
- remove items that may be dangerous
- ensure you have direct access to an exit if required
- Do not hold the person down in any way. This can increase their stimulation and blood pressure, which could cause serious harm or even death. It can also put you at risk of harm.
Create a quiet, calm environment:
- dim the lights if possible
- use a calm, soft voice
- talk in short, clear sentences
- Reassure the person that this experience will pass and that you are nearby for them
- Keep some distance from the person until they begin to calm down and respond to your voice and directions
- Explain what you are doing and warn them before you touch them
- Try to address the person’s immediate needs, such as going to the bathroom and relieving any pain
If the person is hearing or seeing things that aren’t there:
- Tell them that you believe that what they are experiencing is very real to them, but that you are not experiencing the same things they are
- Reassure them that you are there to support them and keep them safe
Call 911 if:
- the person’s symptoms or behaviours are getting more extreme or out of control
- the person wants to leave your location or your sight
What are the signs and symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal?
If someone uses methamphetamine regularly, they will likely become dependent on the drug. When they try to stop using methamphetamine, they may experience symptoms of “withdrawal” from the drug.
For example, the person may feel some of the following:
- very tired or unable to get out of bed or go about their daily life
- anxiety about what they are feeling
- sadness or depression
- confusion or inability to concentrate
These symptoms may last a short while or be long term. It is important that others supporting the person watch for mood changes, as the person may have negative thoughts and may think about hurting themselves or have suicidal thoughts in this withdrawal period.
Call 911 if you have an immediate or urgent concern that the person is considering harming themselves. Additional resources are listed below for support and information.
What are some ways to reduce harm when using methamphetamine?
There are several ways to use drugs more safely:
- never use while alone
- do not share supplies with others
- Use safe supplies such as sterile needles, safer smoking supplies, and heat-resistant pipes that reduce burns and cuts. This can help reduce the spread of disease (such as Hepatitis C).
- Be aware that drugs purchased in the illegal market today may contain fentanyl or other opioids. The illegal drug supply can be very dangerous and even deadly.
- seek medical support for supervised withdrawal management with on-going follow-up
Methamphetamine is often used to enhance sexual experiences. The drugs may be called “Party and Play” or “Chem-Sex.” Chem-Sex can be very dangerous so it is best to avoid it. But if you decide to engage in Chem-Sex, be aware of the risks involved:
- Combining methamphetamines with drugs such as drugs for sexual enhancement (such as Viagra® or Cialis®) can be very dangerous to your health
- There is a significant risk of getting sexually transmitted infections. To help prevent this, use condoms or another barrier protection when having sex (vaginal, oral, or anal).
What help is available for someone using methamphetamine?
Currently there are no medications that will effectively treat addiction to methamphetamine. Some medications may be prescribed to calm people who are using the drug. These medications may help manage short-term withdrawal symptoms as well. However, they have not been shown to reduce long-term use of methamphetamine.
Counselling and other social supports (such as access to safe housing options) are the most effective interventions to help a person address their methamphetamine use.
Other helpful supports include:
- outreach education for the person and their family/friends
- supervised consumption services with healthcare provider support
- medically supervised withdrawal management and follow-up
- providing sterile supplies, such as needles and pipes to prevent the spread of disease such as Hepatitis C
These interventions may open the door to connect people with the care and support they need.
It is also important to not stigmatize or judge someone for their substance use. People may be using drugs due to past trauma, loss or a mental or other health concern. Many people use methamphetamine when they do not have supports available to them or a safe place to sleep. Stigma can increase the person’s feelings of isolation and reduce their likelihood of getting the help they need.