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Crystal methamphetamine is a particularly harmful drug of choice on Vancouver's streets. Its availability, low price and perceived propensity for causing violent behaviour and psychotic symptoms have caused rising concern among local agencies.
Crystal methamphetamine (also called crystal meth, crystal, jib, ice, shards or speed) is a form of amphetamine. It is a powerful stimulant on the central nervous system (CNS) and affects dopamine, one of the essential neurotransmitters in the brain that influences mood.
What does crystal methamphetamine look like?
Meth is found in several different forms. It may appear as slightly transparent crystals, brownish granules or beige, white or pink powder. It is sold in paper flaps, plastic baggies, tablets or capsules.
How is crystal methamphetamine used?
Crystal can be smoked, snorted, injected or eaten. Users usually begin feeling the effects within 3 to 5 seconds when smoked, and the initial high may last between 8 and 16 hours.
What does the high feel like?
Initially, the user experiences intense feelings of euphoria. The user feels energized, alert, talkative, happy, confident and powerful. Then what?
What are the symptoms of crystal methamphetamine use?
- Dilated pupils and rapid eye movements
- Clammy, flushed skin
- Increase in body metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure
- Jitteriness, twitching and muscle spasms (especially apparent in the face, jaw and neck)
- Loss of interest in normal activities such as eating, drinking, sex and sleeping (a user on a run or binge can stay awake for up to two weeks at a time)
- Compulsive and repetitive behaviour (e.g., picking at one's skin, overzealous cleaning or grooming behaviour, teeth grinding)
- Hyper alertness
- Mental confusion
- Inability to focus on one task
- Rapid speech
- Behaviour that is agitated, anxious, irritable, hostile, aggressive or even violent
- Cracked lips
- Skin rashes or sores from scratching and itching
- Extreme weight loss (during a meth run, the user will not eat or sleep for several days)
Who uses crystal methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine use has moved beyond rave culture and into mainstream society. While crystal remains a popular recreational or club drug, users have expanded to include a wide range of groups, including students, youth in the suburbs, professionals, the gay/bisexual/lesbian/transgendered population, young mothers and street youth. Recent surveys report that 68-73% of street-involved youth in Vancouver have used crystal methamphetamine at least once.
Why do people use crystal methamphetamine?
People use crystal methamphetamine for many different reasons. Some people use crystal meth socially at parties or clubs with friends. Others misguidedly use it as an aid for dieting or to stay alert. Street youth commonly say they use meth because it reduces their need for food and sleep, two resources that may be in short supply on the street, and because it helps them to forget or feel better about their living situation. But it isn't a real fix. It is highly addictive and very unsafe.
What are the potential long-term effects of using crystal methamphetamine?
- Structural changes to the brain and memory loss
- Blurred vision and dizziness
- Difficulty completing complex tasks
- Movement disorders and loss of coordination
- Slowed reaction times to stimuli
- Mental confusion, hallucinations, delusions and feelings of paranoia
- Drug-induced psychosis
- Brain toxicity, heart disease and kidney, liver and lung failure
What is drug-induced psychosis?
Long-term use and/or bingeing on meth frequently leads to drug-induced psychosis. Types of psychoses include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.
- Hallucinations, or false perceptions, may be associated with any of the five senses. The most frequent type of hallucination is auditory (e.g., the user hears voices that may issue commands to hurt others). Tactile hallucinations include formication, an advanced form of methamphetamine hallucination in which the user feels bugs on his/her skin. The user scratches at the "bugs," trying to remove them, gouging the skin and leaving scars.
- Delusions are false personal beliefs that are inconsistent with the person's intelligence or cultural background. Delusions cannot be corrected by reasoning. For example, the user may think the Mafia is out to kill him/her, or that the news broadcaster on TV is trying to communicate a secret message to the user.
- Paranoia occurs when the user feels extreme suspicion of others' actions or intentions. For example, a user may see a duck in the river and think the police have placed a camera in the duck to watch him/her.
Anti-psychotic medications (e.g., Haldol) can be used to treat the psychotic symptoms, but these drugs have a number of unpleasant and dangerous side effects. Psychotic symptoms may take between days and months to subside, and in some people, these symptoms may last for years or permanently.
How is crystal methamphetamine addiction treated?
Crystal methamphetamine can cause long-term damage to the brain's ability to produce dopamine. Users often feel extremely depressed and unable to experience normal feelings of happiness and contentment long after they stop using. For this reason, meth has one of the highest relapse rates for addicts and is considered extremely resistant to treatment.
Currently, the most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction are cognitive behavioral interventions.
These approaches are designed to help patients modify their own thoughts and behaviours in order to increase their skills at coping with various life stressors. Support groups also appear to be effective adjuncts to behavioral interventions that can promote long-term abstinence. There are currently no known pharmacological treatments for methamphetamine abuse, although antidepressant medications are helpful in treating the depressive symptoms frequently seen in methamphetamine users who have recently stopped using.
For a look at some powerful videos that expose the truth about crystal meth, visit the Montana Meth Project.
Amphetamine-Related Psychiatric Disorders
This is a clinically oriented article on psychiatric disorders related to amphetamine use and how it can be treated.
CrystalMeth BC aims to be your central resource database and communications channel regarding the crystal meth problem in British Columbia. The site offers hope through education and communication. It is volunteer-run for parents, educators, families and youth.
This website seeks to support and promote the recovery of methamphetamine addicts, and to provide information to teens, adults, parents, teachers, professionals or anyone who may be affected by their own or someone else's crystal methamphetamine use.
Methamphetamine Environmental Scan Summit
This site carries the report from the summit that took place in Richmond, British Columbia, on November 28, 2002. This is an excellent source of information about the crystal methamphetamine scene in BC, synthesized from reports from more than 120 delegates from a wide variety of government and community-based organizations.
This site promotes early detection and education about psychosis. If you or someone you know is experiencing psychotic symptoms, this website provides direction for seeking help.
Research Report Series: Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction
This comprehensive report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse covers methods of use, the short and long-term effects of meth, the medical complications from meth usage, and treatment options.