Meth, also known as crystal meth or methamphetamine, is a manmade central nervous system stimulant drug. The drug is most commonly smoked or snorted. It is manufactured privately using ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and other substances. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration reports that meth is highly addictive and a potentially dangerous drug of abuse that is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance.

Meth has an action that is similar to other stimulants in that it increases the availability of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, and results in very intense feelings of euphoria, hyperactivity, invulnerability, decreased appetite, and a decreased need for sleep. The effects are short-term, and individuals often experience the effects very intensely and quickly, but they wear off quickly as well, resulting in bingeing behaviors where individuals may continue to use the drug for hours at a time until the supply of the drug is exhausted.

The drug has numerous serious potential side effects that can include irreversible brain damage, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular issues, and the development of severe psychiatric issues.

Meth Sores

Meth sores are most commonly seen on an individual’s face, particularly on the mouth, checks, or forehead. Sores may appear to look like acne or a rash but often become infected and spread. According to an article in Family Practice News, sores from meth use can occur from several different methods.

  • Sores around the mouth area are most commonly caused by the pipe used to smoke methamphetamine. Typically, the pipe becomes very hot and burns the area around the mouth and lips.
  • Stimulants like methamphetamine constrict blood vessels, reducing the supply of blood to the skin. This often results in dry, scaly skin.
  • Meth is also water-soluble, and individuals often sweat the toxins out of their pores, which can further damage the skin. The potential sores start off looking like pimples or small red spots. People often pick at them, resulting in open sores.
  • Formication, a constant urge to pick and scratch at the skin, is a common side effect of chronic meth use. This condition is often referred to as having “meth mites.” Severe dehydration and chemical imbalance are also associated with methamphetamine abuse. The dry skin begins to look like it has acne or a rash. Chronic meth users will have the experience that bugs are crawling on their skin or underneath their skin and begin to obsessively pick at their skin. There is no set timeframe when this will occur. The sensation most often occurs on the face and chest. As individuals begin to pick their skin, the sores often become infected and do not heal. As a result, the skin takes on a dry, scaly, and scabby appearance.

As individuals continue to abuse methamphetamine, they begin to pay less attention to their self-care, and sores can become infected. In addition, these individuals often do not eat properly, bathe, maintain personal hygiene, etc., and this can make the situation worse. Over time, individuals will become gaunt and diseased-looking. Those who get into the recovery and quit using meth may require dermatological treatments to treat some of the damage.

Meth Mouth

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2015 examined the mouths of 571 chronic meth abusers and found the following:

  • Untreated tooth decay was found in 58 percent of the sample.
  • Cavities were founded 96 percent of the sample.
  • Six or more missing teeth were found in 31 percent of the sample.

The ADA describes “meth mouth” as being characterized by gum disease and severe tooth decay that often results in teeth breaking or even falling out of the mouth. The extensive decay includes:

  • Stained or blackened teeth
  • Rotting teeth
  • Crumbling teeth
  • Teeth falling apart

The ADA reports that meth mouth is a result of several different factors, including:

  • Dry mouth as a result of reduced saliva production, since saliva helps to rid the teeth of potentially harmful bacteria
  • Poor oral hygiene as a result of chronic drug abuse
  • The acidic effects of methamphetamine, which can result in significant tooth decay and tooth loss
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In addition, the ADA reports that chronic meth abusers also often have very poor diets that include sugary foods, fatty foods, and extensive consumption of junk food, such as soda, which contribute to the above issues.

Meth Psychosis

Methamphetamine-associated psychosis (MAP) is a psychotic disorder that is caused by the use of crystal meth. MAP presents similar to schizophrenia in that individuals experience hallucinations and/or delusions. The hallucinations associated with MAT can be:

  • Visual hallucinations, which consist of seeing things that are not really there
  • Auditory hallucinations, which most often involve hearing voices that are not really there but can also consist of other sounds
  • Tactile hallucinations, such as meth mites
  • Olfactory hallucinations, such as the belief that one is smelling their “brain rotting”
  • Gustatory hallucinations, which often have a paranoid nature to them as individuals believe they are being poisoned

The hallucinations that most commonly occur in schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations, whereas individuals with MAP are more likely to have visual and tactile hallucinations.

The delusions associated with methamphetamine-associated psychosis include:

  • Somatic delusions, which are false and fixed beliefs about one’s body or health (e.g., brain rotting, having “meth mites,” etc.)
  • Delusions of persecution, which include the fear that someone is out to get them or harm them
  • Delusions of grandeur, which often manifest in meth users as feelings of invulnerability
  • Delusions of control, such that individuals on meth believe they are being controlled or brainwashed by others
  • Delusions of reference, where individuals believe that events in the environment, such as a radio broadcast or television show, are directly aimed at them

It is not uncommon for chronic meth users to have extreme issues with paranoia and suspiciousness. Some individuals may also develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as compulsive handwashing or hair pulling. Skin picking as a result of having the sensation of “meth mites” is extremely common.

The Effects of Drugs

Psychotic behavior associated with MAP is directly tied to changes in neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (as is the psychosis that occurs in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders) and structural changes in the frontal cortex of the brain. In addition, numerous genetic associations have been found to interact with the increased susceptibility for individuals to have specific types of psychotic behaviors. Individuals who chronically abuse meth for longer periods of time will often experience more issues with paranoia, hallucinations, and other delusions. The damage associated with chronic meth abuse is particularly salient in the frontal part of the brain that is associated with attention, reasoning, and judgment.

Treatment consists of getting individuals into recovery and using antipsychotic medications to control any reoccurring delusions or hallucinations. Some of the changes to the neural substrates in the brain associated with chronic meth abuse may not be reversible. These include:

  • The death of neurons in numerous areas of the brain
  • The death of glial cells (support cells) and the cytoskeletal structures (support structures) in brain tissue
  • The destruction of white matter in the brain (the singling portion of neurons in the brain)
  • Decreases in numerous neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin
  • Increases in calcium and glutamate in the brain, which can lead to a condition known as cytotoxicity where brain cells fire at extremely high rates for prolonged periods of time and become damaged

Impotence

Stimulant drug abuse is associated with quite a bit of variation in its effects on sexual functions. Previous research studies have indicated that some subjects who abused stimulants like methamphetamine report having increased libido, whereas others report issues with sexual dysfunction as a result of stimulant abuse. Recent research has found that chronic abusers of stimulants were more than twice as likely to have issues with sexual dysfunction as individuals who had no substance abuse issues.

Although the actual mechanism associated with erectile dysfunction in men and decreased libido in women associated with meth abuse has not been identified, it could be speculated that changes in the availability and functions of the neurotransmitter dopamine may be associated with this finding. In addition, it is known that chronic use of methamphetamine is associated with severe damage to the cardiovascular system, which could also affect sexual functioning, as conditions associated with cardiovascular damage, such as diabetes, are known to also be associated with higher rates of erectile dysfunction in men and sexual dysfunction in women.
These effects are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the detrimental effects associated with chronic meth abuse. Damage to other organs, including the lungs, cardiovascular system, liver, and kidneys, is also well documented as a result of chronic abuse of methamphetamine.