Speaking of health – Methamphetamine

By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC

Today’s column deals with an alarmingly increasing problem that is becoming rampant even in small towns like Van Horn.  Methamphetamine, known by its more common name, meth, is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.  Other nicknames for the white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder are chalk, ice, and crystal, and the drug dissolves easily in water and alcohol.

Methamphetamine was developed early in the 20th century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers.  The drug causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of well being or euphoria. However, methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that much greater amounts of the drug get into the brain, making it a much more potent stimulant.

Medically it may be indicated for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as a short-term component of weight-loss treatments, but these uses are limited and it is rarely prescribed, and if it is, it is in doses far lower than those typically abused.

Most meth is manufactured in home labs using easily obtained materials including ephedrine, which is found in common medications like Sudafed.  As such, the medication is strictly controlled and requires ID. Purchase is limited to small quantities.  “Cooking” meth also involves a number of other easily obtained chemicals that are hazardous, such as acetone, anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer), ether, red phosphorus, and lithium, and the chemical residue remains toxic for a considerable amount of time, making it extremely dangerous.

The short-term effects of meth, even in small doses include increased wakefulness and physical activity and decreased appetite.  It can also cause a variety of cardiovascular problems, including rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions may occur with methamphetamine overdose, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.

Long term effects of meth, besides a strong addiction, include symptoms of significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. Users may exhibit psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping under the skin).  This sensation results in the telltale sign of multiple skin lesions as users pick on their skin when experiencing the sensation of insects under their skin.  Another common feature found in addicts is “meth teeth,” destruction of tooth enamel to the root, due to extreme mouth dryness and grinding.  Moreover, besides the aforementioned signs, there is an increase in the risk of stroke and Parkinson’s disease with long-term use of the drug.

(National Institutes of Health, 2016)