June 15, 2007 -- Crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) appears to be more widely used by young adults in the U.S. than previously thought.
A study released today shows that nearly 3% of U.S. young adults say they have used crystal meth in the previous year; the study was conducted in 2001-2002.
That's higher than a previous estimate from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that 1.5% of young adults per year used crystal meth.
The new crystal meth study, published in the journal Addiction , is based on confidential interviews with more than 14,000 young adults nationwide.
Participants were 18-26 years old when they were interviewed in 2001-2002. They were asked about their backgrounds, including their crystal meth use in the previous month and year.
Crystal Meth Use
About half as many young adults reported using crystal meth in the previous month, compared with the previous year.
"Crystal methamphetamine use was reported by a very small percentage of the overall young adult U.S. population, most of whom were occasional rather than frequent users," write Bonita Iritani, MA, MSS, and colleagues.
Iritani works in Chapel Hill, N.C., at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
She and her fellow researchers caution that "even occasional use is associated with multiple health and social risks." For instance, the study suggests that women who use crystal meth may be more likely to engage in risky sex, including not using condoms.
The study also shows that crystal meth (also called ice, crystal, glass, meth, or tina) was most commonly used by whites and Native Americans, men, residents of western or southern states, novelty seekers, men whose biological father had ever been in jail, and users of marijuana, cocaine, and IV drugs.
That's not to say that every crystal meth user fits that description. The survey yielded general findings, not a precise portrait of all crystal meth users.
In the journal Addiction, the new study is accompanied by an editorial from experts including Richard Rawson, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Rawson is a UCLA professor of psychiatry and the associate director of UCLA's Integrated Substance Abuse Programs.
The editorial states that in many parts of the world, methamphetamine use by adolescents "appears to be a significant public health problem," but that "in the United States, federal government statistics minimize the problem.
"There is extensive evidence demonstrating [methamphetamine's] toxicity on the adult human brain when used at high doses over extended periods of time," write the editorialists, who voice concern about meth's effects on the still-developing adolescent brain.
Young women may be particularly vulnerable to developing meth-related problems, according to the editorialists. They point out that in young women, meth use is associated with elevated levels of depression and suicidal thinking.
High-risk sexual behaviors are also linked to meth use, which may increase sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV and hepatitis, note Rawson and colleagues. Learn about how meth use can cause sexual problems.