Ice, speed & other methamphetamines

base, crystal, ice, crystal meth, meth, shabu, ox blood, whiz, goey

Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant drug - a more potent form of the drug amphetamine. It was first synthesised from ephedrine in 1918, and was also used during World War II. 

Close up of crystals on blue background

There are different forms of methamphetamine, generally distinguished by their appearance and perceived purity.

The three main forms are:

  • crystalline (ice or crystal)
  • powder (speed)
  • base

Crystalline methamphetamine (ice) is a highly purified form of methamphetamine with a crystal-like appearance. The only difference between ice and the other methamphetamines, speed and base, is that ice undergoes additional refinement to remove impurities. Ecstasy, which is sold as a tablet, is also a methamphetamine derivative.

Amphetamine was first synthesised in 1887, and was used in the 1930s to treat asthma. Today, amphetamines and amphetamine derivatives are used in the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In 1935 a study of the effects of amphetamine in hospital workers found that the most commonly reported effects were a sense of wellbeing and exhilaration, and reduced fatigue, while during World War II amphetamine was extensively used to combat fatigue and increase alertness in soldiers.

Methamphetamines and the law

It is illegal to use, possess, supply or manufacture methamphetamine in New South Wales.

How methamphetamines are used

Methamphetamine can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected. Ice is usually smoked or injected.

Short-term effects

The short-term effects of methamphetamine include:

  • increased energy
  • a sense of euphoria and wellbeing
  • increased attention and alertness
  • increased talkativeness
  • increased heart rate, breathing and body temperature
  • decreased appetite
  • jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a dry mouth
  • changes in libido
  • nervousness, anxiety and paranoia.

High doses may lead to aggressiveness, hostility and violent behaviour. These effects vary from person to person, and are influenced by factors such as the person's weight, how much they have eaten, their general health, how much of the drug they have taken, and whether they have taken any other drugs.

Taking large quantities can intensify some of the effects. Heavy users may also experience effects such as:

  • blurred vision
  • tremors
  • irregular breathing
  • loss of coordination
  • collapse.

The most serious effects of taking large quantities may include stroke, heart failure, seizures and excessively high body temperature.

Long-term effects

Long-term effects may include:

agitation or aggression
decreased motivation
depression and anxiety
poor concentration and memory
psychotic symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations
disturbed sleep
weight loss
chest pains.

People who inject methamphetamine may experience problems related to injection such as collapsed veins, abscesses and the spread of blood-borne viruses like hepatitis B and C or HIV, while those who snort may suffer from nasal irritation.

Methamphetamines and driving

It is dangerous and illegal, to drive while taking any methamphetamines. Methamphetamines can make a person feel overconfident when driving, leading to risk-taking behaviour and poor judgement.

Methamphetamine psychosis

Methamphetamine use can induce a brief psychosis with symptoms of paranoia and hallucinations, and can make people who have schizophrenia or other chronic psychotic symptoms worse. Research conducted at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has found that around three in ten dependent methamphetamine users will experience psychotic symptoms during any given year; these symptoms usually last up to two or three hours, but sometimes they can last longer and lead to the person being hospitalised.

Methamphetamines and pregnancy

There is evidence that methamphetamine use can affect foetal development. Methamphetamine use during pregnancy has been linked with bleeding, early labour and miscarriage, as well as an increased risk of foetal abnormalities. Use of methamphetamines will also increase the heart rate of both mother and baby. If methamphetamines are used close to birth, the baby may be born with symptoms of methamphetamine use. Babies of mothers who regularly use amphetamines may also experience withdrawal symptoms in the first few weeks after birth. Not much is known about the effects of methamphetamines on the baby during breastfeeding. It is generally risky to take any drug while breastfeeding without medical advice.

Interaction with other drugs

Methamphetamines can be dangerous when taken with monoamine oxidase inhibitors, a type of prescription antidepressant.

Dependence

People who become dependent on methamphetamine typically inject or smoke the drug, and use it at least twice a week.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms for methamphetamine can include:

  • feeling depressed, irritable, restless and lethargic
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat
  • hot and cold flushes.

Overdose

Several toxic reactions can follow the use of methamphetamines. Methamphetamine toxicity is often called methamphetamine overdose, but it can occur with relatively small doses, especially in combination with other drugs or when there are pre-existing medical conditions.

Symptoms of methamphetamine toxicity may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • chest pain
  • tremors
  • increased body temperature and heart rate
  • seizures
  • extreme paranoia, anxiety, panic and agitation
  • hallucinations and delirium.

Treatment

Although methamphetamines are used by a large number of people around the world, no research has yet identified effective treatments for methamphetamine-related problems. Evidence from better-researched drugs suggests that services providing good social support, as well as psychological interventions to help maintain motivation and improve coping skills, are likely to be useful.