What Are the Dangers of Smoking, Snorting, or Injecting Meth?


Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive central nervous system stimulant. Though much methamphetamine is obtained illegally for nonmedical abuse, pharmaceutical formulations are available by prescription for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Due to its inherent risks and addictive potential, however, it is rarely prescribed and drug laws mandate that any prescriptions for it are nonrefillable.1 Crystal meth refers to an illicitly manufactured form of the drug that looks like glass shards or rocks.2

Effects of Methamphetamine

Sad woman

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), methamphetamine’s powerful high results in part from the release of abnormally high levels of dopamine in the brain.2,3

The meth high is quick and powerful, and the drug’s physical effects include:2

  • Heightened ability to stay awake.
  • Increased physical activity.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Increased body temperature (hyperthermia).

Chronic meth use may result in many significant problems that include:2,3,4

  • Confusion.
  • Anxiety.
  • Violence.
  • Psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions such as the sensation of bugs on the skin, and hallucinations).
  • Repeated infections.
  • Skin sores.
  • Meth mouth (severe dental/oral problems relating to use).
  • Anorexia and unhealthy weight loss.
  • Addiction.

How Do People Use Meth?

There are several ways people use meth. They may snort, swallow (via a pill), smoke, or inject it.2

How rapidly and intensely the effects are felt will be influenced by the specific method of use. On average:3,5

  • Swallowing the drug produces a rush within about 15-20 minutes.
  • Snorting produces effects much more quickly (within 3-5 minutes).
  • Smoking and injecting produce intense and near-immediate but relatively brief rushes.

Some people move from one method of intake to another as they seek a stronger or more immediate high.3

Long-Term Risks of Snorting Meth

Snorting meth exposes the nasal cavity, throat, and oral cavity to caustic agents.6 People who snort meth may suffer from one or more of the following problems: 6,7,8,9

  • Vocal cord damage.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Problems swallowing.
  • Chronic sinusitis.
  • Loss of smell.
  • Frequent nosebleeds.
  • Thinning of the mucosal lining in the nasal passages.
  • Death of the tissues in the nasal septum.
  • Perforation of (holes in) the nasal septum.

Snorting methamphetamine can harm—sometimes significantly—the user’s oral health, potentially causing issues such as:6,8

  • Chronic dry mouth (xerostomia).
  • Cavities in the teeth.
  • Abscesses.
  • Severe oral disease.

Long-Term Risks of Smoking Meth

Smoking meth results in an immediate, intense high, which can potentially heighten the drug’s addictive potential.5

Smoking meth is also detrimental to your oral health. When you inhale meth, the toxic ingredients can cause sores in your mouth, leading to infection.6

Research on mice exposed to methamphetamine smoke found that methamphetamine inhalation can cause lung injury and result in the production of free radicals in the lungs. Free radical production may lead to additional problems including:10

  • Oxidative stress and progressive lung tissue injury.
  • Increased risk of pulmonary edema.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Can I Get High from Secondhand Meth Smoke?

While it is not clear whether someone breathing secondhand methamphetamine smoke can get high, individuals who have been exposed in this way have tested positive for methamphetamine on toxicology screenings.2

Long-Term Risks of Injecting Meth

Positive Hepatitis C test

Injection use of methamphetamine, like smoking, produces a powerful, immediate onset of euphoria which is associated with high addiction risk and the potential for negative health consequences.5

Injection meth users are also at risk of suffering very serious health problems including:11

  • Contracting HIV, hepatitis, or other bloodborne diseases.
  • Scarred veins.
  • Collapsed veins.
  • Skin abscesses.
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves.
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Liver disease.

Meth Mouth

Any meth user, regardless of how they use the drug, is at risk of “meth mouth.” Meth mouth refers to the significant tooth decay that may occur as a result of methamphetamine use in combination with poor dental hygiene. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that methamphetamine-related tooth decay is related to:12

  • Methamphetamine’s acidic nature.
  • The tendency of meth users to crave and consume large amounts of sugary, carbonated drinks (e.g., soda).
  • Dry mouth caused by meth use, which decreases the amount of saliva in the mouth that would usually protect against tooth decay.
  • Meth-induced teeth clenching and grinding.
  • The long nature of the meth high. (The prolonged period of intoxication can mean users neglect to brush their teeth for extended amounts of time.)

In some cases, teeth impacted by methamphetamine use cannot be treated and must be extracted.12

Meth Overdose

Regardless of the method of administration, high doses of meth can be deadly.3 Methamphetamine users have died from:3

  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Multiple organ failure due to hyperthermia.

Signs and symptoms of a meth overdose include:13

  • Irregular heart rhythm.
  • Rapid or slower heart rate than normal.
  • Chest pain.
  • Changes in blood pressure.
  • Agitation.
  • Psychosis.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Dangerously high body temperature.

Meth use can damage your mind and body in many ways. Getting help now can save your life. Desert Hope provides compassionate care for addiction and co-occurring disorders in a comfortable environment. When you come to us for treatment, you will learn the tools you need to get sober and stay that way long-term. To learn more about all the ways our program can help you turn your life around, call us now at 702-848-6223.

References:

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). What is methamphetamine?
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020). Methamphetamine Overdose.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). How is methamphetamine misused?
  6. Mountain Plains AIDS Education and Training Center. (2011). Meth in the Mouth.
  7. Bakhshaee, M., Khadivi, E., Naseri Sadr, M., & Esmatinia, F. (2013). Nasal Septum Perforation due to Methamphetamine abuseIranian journal of otorhinolaryngology25(70), 53–56.
  8. Faucett, E. A., Marsh, K. M., Farshad, K., Erman, A. B., & Chiu, A. G. (2015). Maxillary sinus manifestations of methamphetamine abuse. Allergy & rhinology (Providence, R.I.)6(1), 76–79.
  9. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1999. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 33.) Chapter 5—Medical Aspects of Stimulant Use Disorders.
  10. Wells, S. M., Buford, M. C., Braseth, S. N., Hutchison, J. D., & Holian, A. (2008). Acute inhalation exposure to vaporized methamphetamine causes lung injury in miceInhalation toxicology20(9), 829–838.
  11. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2006). Methamphetamine Fast Facts.
  12. American Dental Association. (2005). Methamphetamine Use and Oral Health.
  13. University of Arizona. (n.d.). Methamphetamine Overdose.


About The Contributor

Scot Thomas, M.D.
Scot Thomas, M.D.

Senior Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers

Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating... Read More


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