The Dangers of Crystal Methamphetamine

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on December 15, 2023
17 min read

Methamphetamine, or meth, is a stimulant drug that speeds up your body’s central nervous system. It boosts dopamine, which is a brain chemical that plays a part in movement and motivation. Dopamine also sends a signal that tells you to repeat behaviors that make you feel good.

Common slang terms for meth include:

  • Speed
  • Crystal
  • Crank
  • Chalk
  • Uppers

You may also hear meth called:

  • Tweak
  • Go-fast
  • Ice
  • Glass
  • Tina

Meth is typically a white pill or powder that doesn’t have a smell but tastes bitter. Crystal methamphetamine usually looks like glass chunks or shiny bluish-white rocks. If crystal meth comes as more of a powder, it’ll have a bitter taste like other kinds of meth.

What is crystal meth?

Crystal meth is the common name for crystal methamphetamine, a strong and highly addictive drug that affects the central nervous system. There is no legal use for it.

Also called “ice” or “glass,” it's a popular party drug. Usually, people who use crystal meth smoke it with a small glass pipe, but they may also swallow it, snort it, or inject it into a vein. People say they have a quick rush of euphoria shortly after using crystal meth, but it’s dangerous. It can damage your body and cause severe psychological problems.

Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant that's been around for a long time. During World War II, soldiers took meth to stay awake. People have also taken the drug to lose weight, ease depression, and manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Today, the only legal meth product is a prescription pill. Rarely, it’s used to treat obesity and ADHD.

Meth contains chemicals that are similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Find out the differences between Adderall and methamphetamines, as well as amphetamines vs. methamphetamines.

Crystal meth is often made with a common cold medicine ingredient called pseudoephedrine, which helps ease congestion. Because it's used to make meth, the federal government closely regulates products with pseudoephedrine.

Illegal methamphetamine may also contain chemicals found in household products such as batteries, drain cleaner, fertilizer, nail polish remover, or paint thinner.

Most of the crystal meth and other meth products used in this country are made by transactional criminal organizations (TCOs)in Mexico. In addition to these Mexican “superlabs,” there are many small home labs in the U. S. Making meth is a dangerous process because of the chemicals involved. Along with being toxic, they can cause explosions.

Almost 2.5 million people in the U.S. aged 12 or older say they use meth every year. That’s almost 1% of the population. In general, people use it a little less often than other stimulants such as cocaine. But certain groups are more likely to use meth.

Disparities in meth use

In the past, middle-aged white people used this cheap drug most often. But over the past decade, rates have gone up among Black people and younger folks aged 18-23.

People who commonly use meth in a risky way often face socioeconomic disadvantages, such as:

  • Less education
  • Low household income
  • Less access to health insurance
  • Unstable housing
  • A history with the criminal justice system

You may be more likely to use meth in unsafe ways if you have:

  • Hepatitis
  • Other sexually transmitted infections
  • Depression
  • Another substance use problem

Methamphetamine hydrochloride (Desoxyn) is the only legal methamphetamine in the U.S. It’s a pill approved to treat ADHD, but doctors don’t prescribe it very often. Crystal meth and all other meth products are illegal.

How long does meth stay in your system?

Your body doesn’t break down meth as fast as some other stimulant drugs, such as cocaine. You may feel the effects for 8-24 hours. But it may stay in your urine or blood for around 72 hours and in your hair for up to 90 days.

How long meth makes you high or stays in your system depends on several things, such as:

  • How much you take
  • What time of day you take it
  • How you put it in your body (by mouth or through a vein in your arm)
  • How healthy your kidneys and liver are
  • Your metabolism

There are different ways to get meth into your body. Some people swallow it in a pill form or smoke it by heating up crystals in a glass bowl or pipe and breathing in the vapors.

Here’s a breakdown of some slang terms used to describe other ways people use crystal meth:

  • Slamming. You use a needle to inject the drug right into your veins.
  • Booty bumping. You dissolve crystal meth in water and shoot the mixture into your anus with a syringe. Some people place a crystal meth rock or meth-covered finger into their rectum.
  • Snorting. You chop up a crystal or crush it into a powder before sniffing it.
  • Hot railing. You heat up a glass stem until it’s very hot and place that over a meth rock or powder. Then you breathe in the vapors through your nostril.

Drugs affect people in different ways. The way meth makes you feel depends on several things, including:

  • Your age and body size
  • How much you take
  • The way you get it into your body
  • The people around you or the place where you take it
  • If you have other physical or mental health conditions
  • Whether you have alcohol, medicine, or other drugs in your body

How long does it take meth to kick in?

You’ll usually feel a “rush” pretty quickly. But how fast meth kicks in depends on the method you use:

  • Injecting or smoking: Within seconds
  • Snorting: 3-5 minutes
  • Swallowing: 15-20 minutes

Meth dosage

Unless you use an approved methamphetamine medication under the direction of a doctor, there’s no recommended dose for meth. The least risky (and slowest) way to use meth is to swallow it. Your odds of harmful effects go up if you put meth into your vein with a needle. But you can lessen the chances of harmful effects if you use smaller amounts of meth no matter what method you choose.

Here are some typical ranges for doses:

  • Light dose: 5-10 mg
  • Common dose: 10-30 mg
  • Strong dose: 30-40 mg

Meth short-term effects

You may feel a high similar to other stimulants, such as cocaine. Even with small amounts of meth, you may:

  • Feel more alert and confident
  • Have more energy
  • Talk and move more
  • Sleep and eat less

You may get physical symptoms. Some may be uncomfortable, such as:

  • Fast breathing
  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Increase in body temperature

How long does the high last?

In general, you may feel the effects of meth for around 2-6 hours if you smoke it or 6-8 hours if you inject it. The high may linger a little longer if you snort or swallow the drug, lasting up to 12 hours or longer. The duration may differ for you depending on how often you use meth.

Meth comedown

After the high wears off, you may start to feel bad physically and emotionally. These negative feelings may equal the intensity of your high but in the opposite way. You may seek out more meth to make these feelings go away.

The “meth comedown” may include physical symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Muscle aches
  • Shakiness

You may have psychological symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness

Some people who use meth see or hear things that aren’t there. You may experience something called psychosis. This can cause you to think scary things that aren’t true. The odds of this happening to you are higher if you go on a multiday meth binge without sleeping.

Meth long-term effects

It depends on how often you use meth and your method of choice, but you could develop physical and emotional symptoms, including addiction, that negatively impact your life in big and little ways.

Long-term effects of regular meth use may include:

  • Serious weight loss because you don’t eat
  • Constant drug-seeking
  • Teeth problems
  • Skin that itches so bad your scratching causes sores
  • A feeling like you have bugs crawling under your skin
  • Anxiety, depression, or other mood changes
  • Confusion or trouble focusing
  • Memory loss

If you use meth often, you may also:

  • Use poor judgment and do risky things
  • Only feel good when they take drugs
  • Become aggressive and violent
  • Have extreme paranoia
  • See or feel things that aren’t real

If you use meth on a regular basis, it can change your brain’s dopamine system. This can affect how you move and think. For example, you may have problems with coordination or learning. Your chances of getting Parkinson’s disease (a movement disorder) may go up.

Some of the negative effects of meth use, including hallucinations or movement issues, may go away in the weeks or months after you stop using the drug. But some changes may take years or longer to resolve or never get better.

Secondhand meth smoke effects

There’s ongoing research into the health effects of secondhand meth smoke. You may or may not get high around someone who uses meth. Still, you may test positive for the drug if you’re around the smoke.

Are you worried someone you care about might be misusing meth? Consider these signs:

  • Negative changes in how they look or care for themselves
  • Teeth or gum damage
  • Obsessively picking at hair or skin
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Dilated pupils and rapid eye movement
  • Strange sleeping patterns -- staying up for days or even weeks at a time
  • Jerky, erratic movements; twitching; facial tics; animated or exaggerated mannerisms; and constant talking
  • Borrowing money often, selling possessions, or stealing
  • Angry outbursts or mood swings
  • Psychotic behavior, such as paranoia and hallucinations

People who use meth may also keep drug tools or paraphernalia around, including:

  • Needles or syringes
  • Burnt spoons
  • Surgical tubes

There are short- and long-term physical and emotional effects that come with frequent meth use. But there are some other risks you should be aware of, including:

Drug quality 

Unlike medication regulated by the government, there’s no way to know what’s in drugs made in illegal labs. And meth makers commonly “cut” their products with strong chemicals or medications (such as fentanyl or other opioids) to save money.

These additives may change how meth affects you or prove harmful to your health. Dangerous things found in meth products include:

  • Lithium metal
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Iodine
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Red phosphorus

On average, illegal meth products are about 70% pure. You probably won’t be able to tell if the drug you take has dangerous stuff in it, so try to buy meth from someone you trust.

Meth interactions

Some people use meth with other drugs to boost the effects of one substance or another, but it’s hard to predict what’ll happen if you do this. It’s dangerous to use meth with other drugs, including:

  • Stimulants like cocaine. This puts extra strain on your central nervous system and can lead to cardiovascular problems or drug-related psychosis.
  • Depressants. Stimulants such as meth can cover up the effects of “downers.” That includes alcohol or other drugs such as marijuana, heroin, painkillers, or benzodiazepines.
  • Prescription drugs. Meth doesn’t mix well with antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), amphetamines that treat ADHD, and drugs that affect your heart and blood pressure such as Viagra.

The only surefire way to avoid harm from drugs is to not use them. But if you choose to use meth, there are steps you can take to make your experience safer.

Here are some tips to reduce harm from meth use:

  • Lower your dose. Wait an hour or so before you try more.
  • Use a safer method. Smoking and snorting meth is safer than using a needle.
  • Stick with one substance. Mixing meth with alcohol or other drugs can be dangerous.
  • Use your own drug tools. Your odds of getting viruses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C go up if you share needles with someone who is infected.
  • Get a naloxone kit. Ask your pharmacist or local health department for a free naloxone kit to keep at home. This drug can reverse the effects of opioids (which may be in your meth).

Other safety tips include:

  • Use meth in a safe space with people you know.
  • Give yourself time to sleep between doses.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat nutritious foods every day.
  • Take care of your teeth and mouth.
  • Take breaks from meth use.

Sex and meth

You may use meth to make sex more pleasurable or to lower your inhibitions. But you may not think clearly when you’re high or make the same decisions as when you’re sober. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan for how you’ll avoid impulsive or risky sex before you use drugs.

Some tips for safer sex with meth include:

  • Talk to your partner before you get high.
  • Agree on which safer sex practices you’ll use.
  • Have condoms and lube with you.
  • Find out if PrEP is right for you.
  • Make your sexual boundaries clear.
  • Say no or stop anytime you feel uncomfortable.

You can have serious side effects and health problems from drug use. Some can affect your physical appearance while others can be fatal. If you use meth while you’re pregnant, you may give birth early or have a baby with a low birth weight.

Some meth complications include:


This is a term commonly used to describe when meth speeds up your central nervous system too much. You may get physical symptoms such as:

  • Fast or irregular heart rate
  • Spikes in blood pressure
  • Very high body temperature

Overamping can change how you feel or think in scary ways. You may have:

  • Serious anxiety or panic
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Aggressiveness or agitation
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Psychosis and hallucinations

Overamping can be deadly, especially if your body overheats. If that happens to you or a loved one, you should:

  • Cool down with ice packs, water, or a fan.
  • Drink something with electrolytes (such as a sports drink) to prevent dehydration.
  • Call 911 if you or your loved one has a very fast heart rate, chest pain, shortness of breath, or a seizure.

To manage less serious symptoms of overamping, you should:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Drink water or a sports drink.
  • Try to breathe deeply.
  • Take a cool shower or use ice packs.
  • Go outside to get fresh air.
  • Sleep, if you can.

Meth mouth

You may grind your teeth, get dry mouth, or skip good dental hygiene practices when you use meth. In addition, the drug is acidic. These things can lead to serious tooth decay or gum disease. People who frequently use meth often have teeth that break, turn black, rot, or fall out.

Track marks

Scars can form in your veins when you put drugs into them with needles. You may also get bruises around the injection sites or have trouble with blood flow through injured veins.

The powerful rush you get from using meth makes it easy to get hooked right from the start. When it's used, dopamine floods your brain to boost feelings of pleasure. You may also feel a lot more confident, social, and energetic.

Meth is extremely addictive, and you may find yourself pulled toward using it more often once you feel the positive effects. You may continue to use meth because of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that come once the drug leaves your system.

Only a doctor can diagnose you or your loved one with a substance use disorder. But signs of meth addiction include having at least two of the following symptoms over the past year:

  • You crave meth all the time.
  • You can’t do everyday things at home, school, or work because of drug use.
  • You can’t stop using meth even though bad things are happening in your life.
  • You use more meth than you plan to.
  • You want to stop using meth and can’t.
  • You have to use more of the drug to get the same high.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when you stop using meth.

Some other signs of meth addiction in a loved one may include:

  • Unpredictable or aggressive behavior
  • Burns on fingers or lips
  • Nosebleeds, track marks, or skin sores
  • Big pupils
  • Lots of extra energy
  • Talking fast or speech that doesn’t make sense
  • Social isolation
  • Big behavior changes
  • Mood swings
  • Damaged teeth or other oral health problems
  • Serious weight loss

How common is meth addiction?

A national survey on people aged 12 or older shows that 0.6% of the U.S. population, or about 1.6 million people, may have a methamphetamine use disorder. That means more than half of people who use meth go on to misuse the drug.

If you continue to use meth, you can build up a tolerance. That means you’ll need bigger doses of the drug to get the same high. The more meth you take, the higher your health risks become. Get more information about how meth use affects the body.

You can have physical and psychological symptoms when you stop using meth. How you’ll feel off the drug depends largely on how often you use it and at what doses.

There are two phases to the meth withdrawal timeline. Those are:

Acute withdrawal. This is what happens shortly after you stop taking meth. Your withdrawal symptoms will be strongest during the first 24 hours or so and typically last about 7-10 days. But it can be a little longer for some people.

Protracted withdrawal. This refers to the 2-3 weeks after the acute phase. You may have similar symptoms, but they’re usually less intense and chaotic.

In general, meth withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Serious low mood
  • Psychosis
  • Strong urge to take more drugs

Acute meth withdrawal symptoms may also include:

  • Dehydration
  • Chills
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Confusion
  • Inability to feel pleasure

In addition to the above symptoms, protracted withdrawal may include:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Continued drug cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Increased appetite and weight gain

Withdrawal can make you feel so bad that you can’t stop using meth. If you have serious psychological symptoms, you may hurt yourself or someone else. Medical detox can help you manage your withdrawal symptoms comfortably and in a safe place, lessening your chances of relapse.

You can have a toxic or deadly reaction when you take too much meth. And in 2021, almost 33,000 people overdosed on the drug. The risks of overdose are higher when you mix the drug with opioids or other stimulants such as cocaine, ecstasy, or amphetamines.

The chances you’ll take too much meth are higher if you inject meth, but harmful or life-threatening health problems can happen no matter what method you use.

A meth overdose can result in a dangerous spike in heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. As a result, you may get heart and blood vessel problems such as:

  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Stroke
  • Organ problems
  • Seizures
  • Death

Treatment for a meth overdose depends on what’s going wrong in your body but may include:

  • Restoring blood flow to your brain if you’re having a stroke.
  • Boosting blood flow to your heart if you’re having a heart attack.
  • Treatment for any organ damage.

Always call 911 or go to the hospital if you or a loved one has signs of a meth overdose. Tell emergency responders or doctors about the drug use. Health professionals aren’t there to report you to the police. Their job is to keep you safe and alive.

Meth addiction is one of the hardest drug addictions to treat, but it can be done. If you know someone who can’t control their drug use, ask for professional help.

People who use meth often need a professional counselor or drug treatment program to help them get better.

Treatment options for meth use disorders may include:

  • Detox programs. There isn’t a drug to treat meth. But you can take medication to get through the withdrawal process. Detox usually happens at a hospital or substance use treatment center.
  • Inpatient rehab. You’ll check into a medical facility to recover. These stays typically last about 30 days, but the timeline is different for everyone.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of talk therapy that helps change how you think and act around drugs.
  • Motivational rewards. This is a type of behavioral therapy. You get money or other good things to not use meth. 
  • Support groups. You may find it easier to stop using meth if you talk to people who know what you’re going through.

The cost of meth addiction treatment varies. Some detox or rehab programs may cost $250 to $800 a day. Inpatient programs are typically the most expensive, costing anywhere from $5,000 to $80,000. But what you’ll pay depends on where you get treatment, how long you stay, what services you need, and your health insurance coverage.

How do I pay for meth addiction treatment?

By law, private insurers have to cover some of the costs of substance use treatment, and most drug rehab centers accept private and public health insurance. Your costs will depend on the type of health insurance you have and what facilities or services your provider covers.

Call your health insurer to find out if you need to go to a specific doctor or place for addiction treatment. You’ll typically pay less out-of-pocket if you go to “in-network” providers.

If you don’t have health insurance, search local substance use programs to find out how to get help paying for addiction treatment. To find resources in your area, use the Treatment Locator created by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or call 800-662-HELP.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug. You may keep taking meth to feel good or to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms once the drug leaves your body. You may have to take more of the drug to get the same high, and you can overdose on meth. Ask your doctor how to stop using it. Substance use treatment can help you recover.

What does crystal meth look like?

It may look like tiny shards of glass or shiny ice-like rocks with a blueish-white tint. Sometimes, crystal meth may come in a sugar-like powder that’s white or brown.

How does one recover from meth addiction?

You can’t take medication specifically approved to treat meth. But substance use treatment with medical detox and behavioral therapies for addiction can help you recover from meth use disorder.

How does meth differ from other stimulants such as cocaine?

Your body quickly breaks down cocaine. If you snort it, you may feel high for only 15-30 minutes. But meth stays in your system longer. Depending on how you take it, you can feel the effects of meth for anywhere from 8-24 hours.

Is crystal methamphetamine illegal?

Yes. The only legal meth product is a prescription medication approved to treat ADHD. You can only get it from your doctor, but it’s not used very much.

How widespread is methamphetamine consumption?

In 2021, almost 1% of the U.S. population aged 12 or older said they’d used meth in the past year. That’s about 2.5 million people. In comparison, around 4.8 million people said they used cocaine in the same timeframe.