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The use of methamphetamines, particularly crystal meth, can cause serious, sometimes irreversible, physical damage and ailments to a user over time. The term meth mouth is indicative of dental problems that may develop with long-term use of meth, including dental decay and tooth loss. This malady happens when the mouth becomes overly dry (from use of meth) and/or from tooth grinding, a common occurrence in meth users. In addition, those who are addicted to crystal meth often have poor diets that are inadequate in essential nutrients, compounding dental issues.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are both short-term and long-term physical issues that can occur with meth use. On first use, the drug can induce rapid heartbeat, increased breathing rate, and hyperthermia (body temperature rising above normal). The long-term consequences of use can be extensive, life-changing, and even deadly.
Use of methamphetamine leads to physical addiction, and withdrawal symptoms occur when coming off the substance. For chronic users, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disorders, and even violent tendencies can transpire over time. Psychosis can also set in, whereby the user experiences visual or auditory hallucinations. This may manifest as feeling bugs crawling on the skin, seeing “ghosts,” or hearing a radio playing that doesn’t exist or even voices talking when no one is present.
Additionally, meth users may become paranoid, believing that someone is talking about them or believing that loved ones are plotting against them. Sadly, these psychotic symptoms can last for months or years after a person has stopped using meth, with stress reactivating the psychosis at times.
According to PBS, methamphetamine releases a large amount of dopamine into the brain, causing a prolonged euphoria, about 12 times as much as a person gets from food or sex. It is reported to release more dopamine in the brain than any other street drug. But as the euphoric feelings subside, many users are left feeling depressed, which can be profound.
Over time, continued meth use can impact a person’s cognitive abilities. This includes the ability to think clearly, retain information, and evaluate situations. Unfortunately, cognitive changes in meth users may be permanent even after long-term abstinence, much like cognitive impairments of those with Parkinson’s disease.
Other telltale signs of meth use are changes to the skin. Blood vessels shrink with use of meth and cut off blood supply, resulting in rapidly aging skin or acne. In addition, meth users often pick at their skin due to delusions of bugs crawling on them or just from the need to be constantly doing something. This often leads to broken skin, bloody sores, and scabs.
A more drastic result of meth use is stroke and myocardial infarction due to increased blood pressure, heart enlargement, and vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels).
According to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kanthi De Alwis in Honolulu, a person does not need to ingest large quantities of the drug to suffer such serious consequences. In other words, a person doesn’t need to have an overdose to have a stroke; rather, a stroke is a toxic effect of meth use.
In summary, methamphetamines are incredibly dangerous. Meth use carries the risk of permanent changes to the brain along with the most serious consequence of death. While meth mouth is common with continued use, the risks of meth use extend far beyond the mouth to the entire body and brain.