The abuse of methamphetamine, also referred to as “meth,”“speed,”“crank,”“chalk,”“ice,”“glass,” or “crystal,” has been declining in many metropolitan areas and communities throughout the United States. This decrease is attributed in part to drug seizures and the closures of clandestine laboratories that produce methamphetamine illegally. Prevention programs focusing upon methamphetamine abuse have also increased.

Most persons who abuse methamphetamine self-administer the drug orally, although there have been reports of methamphetamine administration by inhalation and intravenous injection. Individuals who abuse or become dependent upon methamphetamine state that use of this drug induces feelings of euphoria and decreases fatigue associated with difficult life situations. Adverse physiologic effects observed as a consequence of methamphetamine abuse include headache, difficulty concentrating, diminished appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea, disordered sleep, paranoid or aggressive behavior, and psychosis. Severe, life-threatening toxicity may present as hypertension, cardiac arrythmia or failure, subarachnoid hemorrhage, ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage, convulsions, or coma. Methamphetamines increase the release of monoamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) from presynaptic neurons.

It is thought that the euphoric and reinforcing effects of this class of drugs are mediated through dopamine and the mesolimbic system, whereas the cardiovascular effects are related to norepinephrine. MRS studies suggest that chronic abuse may injure the frontal areas and basal ganglia of the brain.

Therapy of acute methamphetamine overdose is largely symptomatic. Ammonium chloride may be useful to acidify the urine and enhance clearance of the drug. Hypertension may respond to sodium nitroprusside or -adrenergic antagonists. Sedatives may reduce agitation and other signs of central nervous system hyperactivity. Treatment of chronic methamphetamine dependence may be accomplished in either an inpatient or outpatient setting using strategies similar to those described above for cocaine abuse.

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), or Ecstasy, is a derivative of methamphetamine. Ecstasy is usually taken orally but may be injected or inhaled. In addition to amphetamine-like effects, MDMA can induce hyperthermia and vivid hallucinations and other perceptual distortions.

During the past decade, an eighteenfold increase in MDMA-related emergency room incidents has been reported in the United States. Recent studies have revealed that MDMA induces both brain dopaminergic and serotonergic neurotoxicity. Thus, use of recreational use of MDMA by young persons may significantly increase the risk for subsequent occurrence of severe neuropsychiatric disorders.

Cocaine and Other Commonly Abused Drugs

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD