NIDA InfoFacts: Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is a very addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. It is a Schedule II stimulant, which means it has a high potential for abuse and is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. However, its medical uses are limited and the doses prescribed are much lower than those typically abused. Most of the methamphetamine abused in this country comes from foreign or domestic superlabs, although it can also be made in small, illegal laboratories, where its production endangers the people in the labs, neighbors, and the environment.
How is Methamphetamine Abused?
Methamphetamine is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol and is taken orally, intranasally (snorting the powder), by needle injection, or by smoking.
How Does Methamphetamine Affect the Brain?
Methamphetamine increases the release of very high levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which is involved in motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function, and is a common mechanism of action for most drugs of abuse.
Chronic methamphetamine abuse significantly changes how the brain functions. Noninvasive human brain imaging studies have shown alterations in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor performance and impaired verbal learning.1 Recent studies in chronic methamphetamine abusers have also revealed severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory,2,3 which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in chronic methamphetamine abusers.
Long-term methamphetamine abuse can also lead to addiction—a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, and accompanied by chemical and molecular changes in the brain. Some of these changes persist long after methamphetamine abuse is stopped, and some reverse after sustained periods of abstinence (e.g., 2 years).4
Reprinted with the permission of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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