We all know about it from Breaking Bad. We’ve seen the devastating effect it can have on individuals and families.
But what do you really know about what crystal meth, the drug favored by Walter White, actually does to you?
The most recent drug use data from the Office of National Statistics reveals that the proportion of adults who will take methamphetamine in their lifetime is just 0.9% which, when compared to the 29.2% who will try cannabis, means most of us will have little to no idea what it’s really like and what happens.
This is where science can help us.
Here are six things that happens to your body when you take crystal meth.
1) You won’t feel hungry
Unlike cannabis that can give you a serious case of the munchies, methamphetamine can decrease your appetite. And to quite dangerous levels.
A study by the University of Illinois found that the food consumption of fruit flies decreased by 60-80 per cent when given the drug. Fruit flies are often used in studies of meth’s effect on the brain as it has similar toxicological effects on the creatures as in humans and other mammals.
It was because levels of triglycerides and glycogen, which are two predominant energy storage molecules in animals, decreased at a steady level with meth usage within 48 hours.
This resulted in a very reduced calorie intake.
2) There will be initial feelings of euphoria
By which we mean the effects that users take the drug for.
Meth is a stimulant, meaning you’ll probably feel more awake and alert.
Head of drugs services Gary Sutton for Release, the national center of expertise on drugs and drugs law, says this is extremely common in people who take it for the first time.
‘There are also some euphoric properties such as feeling more sociable and a generally lifted mood. Many users who have also used MDMA/Ecstasy report similar experiences the first time they use meth,’ he says.
Though he also says it doesn’t last, and after multiple uses the euphoric effects become less frequent, which can become a vicious cycle as people take the drug to replicate the effects.
‘The compulsive nature of dopaminergic substances such as crystal meth is that the high is so exhilarating and the low so oppressive that users can get caught in a manic cycle of “retain the high, avoid the crash”, prompting long periods of intoxication.’
3) Your sex drive might be higher
Consultant psychiatrist Dr William Shanahan who works with drug addiction patients at the Nightingale Hospital says this side effect is one of the main reasons why people take meth in the first place.
‘Methamphetamine hugely increases sex drive,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘People use meth to enhance sex. They find it [chemical sex, or chemsex] longer lasting and are more interested in it.
‘It creates a state of lowered inhibitions that people enjoy.’
This study of the effect on meth on female rats found there was an increase in female sexual motivation and behavior.
This is not necessarily a good thing, however. Meth is also likely to cause careless or reckless behavior. Researchers carried out the study after noticing a correlation between the taking of the drug and unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDS transmission.
4) You’ll have serious tooth decay
Or what is better known as ‘meth mouth’. It’s not pretty.
According to research done by the University of Perugia, meth dries out the saliva glands in your mouth. Without the diluting effects of your saliva, the acids found in your food can eat away at your teeth faster.
This is why dentists find it difficult to tell the difference between tooth decay caused by sugar and tooth decay caused by meth, as according to this study, they look identical.
5) You’ll look older prematurely
You may have seen the dramatic effect meth can have on a person’s appearance – if not, it’s pretty shocking. The picture above shows the huge difference that five years on the drug can make.
But here’s the science behind it.
It’s well known that crystal meth causes cell death, leading eventually to potential organ failure and permanent damage to your blood vessels. The mechanism of how this happens was not known until very recently.
Researchers from the University of California found in an experiment on rats that meth causes abnormalities in fat metabolism cells, causing them to release a molecule called ceramides.
This is what causes cells to age and eventually die – which includes the cells on your face that make you look young and beautiful.
6) Your mental health will take a nose dive
Feelings of hopelessness and sadness are very common in a meth comedown, according to the NHS. But long-term use can cause bigger, more long-lasting mental problems.
The use of meth and depression have been long linked. This study of meth-dependent individuals entering psycho-social treatment found that the patients who had the most success were those who abstained from taking the drug.
Gary Sutton from Release revealed the various negative side effects that meth can bring to your mental health.
‘As with any substance, there are side-effects which can be negative. These include sleep difficulties, paranoia and loss of appetite in the short term (the ‘comedown’), and in the longer term can include deep mood changes,’ he says.
Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also found a link between the drug and schizophrenia after an analysis of California hospitals records over a decade.