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Meth Use and Cancer: 4 Myths, Debunked

By Anna Giorgi
Learn to separate the facts from the fiction when it comes to methamphetamine and cancer.

Can meth give you cancer? While the effects of meth use on your mind and physical appearance are well-documented, common myths distort the relationship between meth use and cancer. Learn the truth about four common misconceptions.

Myth #1: Meth causes cancer.

REALITY: Meth has well-known acute toxic effects in the brain and liver, although there’s no proven cause and effect relationship between meth and cancer. But there is some evidence that meth damages two types of DNA in humans, leading to “the assumption that the drug may cause adverse health effects (such as cancer and infertility) in long-term users which are casually related to DNA damage,” according to a 2019 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal

Meth users may also have a higher risk for cancer because of the additives that illegal labs use to make the drug. These ingredients include a wide range of household chemicals, such as benzene, that are known to cause cancer in humans. 

Myth #2: Meth helps prevent cancer.

REALITY: Meth interferes with cancer prevention. Using meth often results in a series of habits linked to diseases that could make you more likely to get cancer. Meth also affects cancer detection, because routine medical care and screening tests become less of a priority for users.

“The lifestyle of a meth user can include sharing needles, unprotected sex, and living on the streets, which can lead to contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and liver disease,” Deni Carise, PhD, chief science officer at Recovery Centers of America and an adjunct associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

This lifestyle, the thinking goes, can increase your likelihood of getting cancer. There's no definitive link, but recreational meth use definitely isn't helpful for cancer prevention.

Myth #3: Meth gives you brain cancer.

REALITY: While there’s no direct cause and effect between meth use and brain cancer, meth use can damage brain cells. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth use has a negative effect on microglia, non-neural brain cells that support brain health. 

Healthy microglia cells protect the brain from infections and inflammation. However, when microglia cells experience too much activity, they can destroy healthy neurons.

Myth #4: Doing meth kills cancer cells. 

REALITY: While there’s no proof that meth use kills cancer cells, it may one day have a benefit in the treatment of brain cancer. The blood-brain barrier is a network of tiny blood capillaries that protects the brain and spinal cord from potentially dangerous substances. However, this filter also interferes with getting therapeutic drugs into the brain for cancer treatment.

Meth succeeds in breaking the blood-brain barrier, which is why it easily causes addiction. In a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers combined low doses of meth with cancer-fighting drugs that don’t readily cross the blood-brain barrier. They observed that the therapeutic drugs reached the brain more easily with meth than they would alone when administered to rats.

The fact is, any benefits of methamphetamine as it relates to cancer have only been seen in a controlled, scientific environment. There's no proof that casual users or abusers of meth reap any benefit. 

Get Help Now

Getting the right treatment can help you avoid the physical and mental consequences of meth use. Meth treatment typically involves detox and behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

Find out how you can get the help you need. WebMD Connect to Care advisors are standing by now to help.

Treatment & Resources for Meth Addiction