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Just the Facts: Methamphetamines

Right now, there is an upsetting trend among high school students showing an increase in their usage of methamphetamines (meth) as the current drug of choice. It is therefore more important than ever that parents know what meth is, as well as how to recognize potential signs of the abuse of the drug in their own children.

Methamphetamines are also known by the street names "crystal," "chalk," and "ice," and it is incredibly addictive. It is a white powder with no odor, and it has a bitter taste. It can be ingested orally, as well as smoked, snorted, or even dissolved in either water or alcohol and then injected.

Many users prefer to smoke or inject meth because it hits the brain quicker and provides an immediate and intense feeling of euphoria. The effect tends to dissipate as fast as it hits, however, and so users tend to take meth repeatedly, leading to what is called "binge and crash" behavior.

Surprisingly, meth can actually be prescribed by a doctor. It can be prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), though it is rarely used for medical purposes. When it is used for this purpose, it is used in much lower amounts than what users take to get high. Meth is considered a Schedule II drug, which means that it is only available legally as a one-time only prescription with no refills and that it has a high probability for abuse.

Even the smallest amount of meth can cause the same side effects as stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines. These side effects can include increased wakefulness and physical activity, a lack of appetite, cardiovascular changes (such as a rapid or irregular heartbeat), high blood pressure, a higher body temperature, and an increase in wakefulness.

Those who use meth over a longer period of time are often easier to spot due to the effect that meth can have on their outward appearance. Long-term meth users typically suffer from extreme weight loss, skin sores that develop as a result of persistent scratching, and severe dental issues that are grouped under the term "meth mouth."

Those who use meth are also at an increased risk of contracting diseases that are shared through dirty needles and other contaminated drug paraphernalia. HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C can all be contracted from the injection equipment that is used to take meth. Similarly, meth users can contract these diseases by having unprotected sex with someone who has been exposed to dirty injection equipment and who may have contracted one of these diseases as a result.

Like any other drug that alters judgment and lowers inhibitions, meth too increases the odds of someone participating in risky behavior that can have long-term consequences on their health, in addition to the long-term consequences that the drug presents to the user's health on its own.

On a related note, if a meth user contracts HIV, continuing to use meth can actually speed up the progression of the disease, as well as worsen its related consequences. Studies have shown that HIV does more damage to the neurons and cognitive abilities of meth users than it does to those who do not take the drug.