Substances | 6 min read

What Is Meth? Drug Facts, Side Effects, and Health Risks

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On August 28, 2023

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On August 28, 2023

What Is Meth? Drug Facts, Side Effects, and Health Risks
Reading Time: 6 minutes

What Is Meth?

Methamphetamine, or meth, is a potent stimulant that is highly addictive. It was originally developed in the 20th century from amphetamine, its parent drug. The difference between meth and amphetamine is meth is a more potent form of the drug and gets into the brain more. It was once commonly used in bronchial inhalers and nasal decongestants.

There are still some ways that meth is prescribed today. Meth is a Schedule II stimulant under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It may help with the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and help with short-term weight loss. However, it is rarely prescribed by healthcare professionals. When it is prescribed, the dosage is much lower than when the substance is misused.


What Does Meth Look Like?

Typically meth will appear to have an off-white, translucent, or white color to it. When other substances or drugs are added, it will naturally change colors. Some “cooks” of meth even started adding blue dye into their product to resemble the blue meth used in the hit TV show Breaking Bad.

Forms Of Meth

Methamphetamine comes in various forms, so the look of it will differ based on the form that is purchased. The different forms of meth can affect the way they are taken.

Crystal Meth

One of the most common forms of meth is crystal meth. Crystal meth will have the appearance of shiny glass fragments or look like rock salt. This form of meth is made by dissolving meth powder into a solvent such as acetone or denatured alcohol. After the alcohol evaporates, it will leave behind the crystals. These crystals can be white, blue, or translucent and will be chunky.

Powdered Meth

Another of the most common and popular forms of meth is powdered meth. This form of meth can resemble cocaine or chalk dust. The color of powdered meth will highly depend on what substances and materials were used when making it. It is typically an off-white, light brown, or white color but may come in a variety of colors like green, red, blue, yellow, or pink.

Liquid Meth

While liquid meth is not sold on the street, it has become a popular way to transport and smuggle the drug. The meth will be dissolved in water and then trafficked in liquid form. Its appearance is a brown or dark yellow, syrupy kind of liquid. Later the liquid will be converted into crystal meth or powdered meth.

Meth Pills and Tablets

As you have already learned, meth can be prescribed for certain conditions such as ADHD or to manage obesity. When meth is obtained with a prescription from a healthcare provider, it will usually go under the brand name Desoxyn (methamphetamine hydrochloride). Oftentimes this prescription drug will be sold illicitly and used to get high. They are often sold as small green or reddish-orange colored pills or tablets.

Street Names For Meth

Meth goes by many different street names. These street names will allow someone to find meth easier on the streets and through a drug dealer. These names include:

  • Ice
  • Tweek
  • Bathtub Crank
  • Speed
  • Christmas Tree (if the meth has a green color to it)
  • Rocket Fuel
  • Crank
  • Tina
  • Gak
  • Christina
  • Poor Man’s Coke
  • Crissy
  • Redneck Cocaine
  • Crystal
  • Chalk
  • Fire
  • Glass
  • Scooby Snacks
  • Ice
  • Go Fast
  • Uppers

How Is Meth Made?

Meth used to be commonly made in the United States. However, due to the 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA), domestic meth production has decreased.[1] Now meth is more commonly produced in Mexico and trafficked to the U.S. There are still some “mom and pop” or “shake and bake” labs that produce meth in the U.S.

Typically, meth is made from over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. These components are then cooked with other chemicals such as phosphorus, acetone, or freon. Once these chemicals have been cooked, water will be added and then a solvent such as acetone will be heated to extract the meth from the concoction.

Meth contains dangerous chemicals that can be hazardous and poisonous to your body. Some of these chemicals that are used to produce meth include:

  • Iodine Crystals
  • Alcohol
  • Battery Acid or Lithium from car batteries
  • Acetone, derived from nail polish remover or paint thinner
  • Chloroform or ether
  • Benzene or gasoline
  • Phosphorous, which is extracted from matches or flares
  • Ammonia
  • Toluene from brake fluid
  • Freon from AC units
  • Hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid from drain cleaners

How Does Meth Work?

Meth works by releasing the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine into the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nerve endings.[2] The release of these neurotransmitters allows the euphoric feeling of meth to be felt. When meth enters the brain and blood stream a variety of effects both physical and mental will take place.

Does Meth Have A Taste?

Meth has a very distinctive taste. It is often said that it resembles the taste of rotten eggs. This can cause someone to not want to ingest meth and will find other means of taking the drug. The taste of meth is best described as a bitter, chemical-like taste in the mouth that is similar to burnt plastic, ammonia, or rotten eggs.

What Does Meth Smell Like?

The smell that meth produces when it is being cooked depends heavily on what kinds of materials are being used. Pure meth will not have an odor but meth that is produced with toxic chemicals will have a pungent smell. The strong smell of meth may resemble cat urine, burnt plastic, ammonia, fertilizer, vinegar, nail polish remover, or rotten eggs.

How Is Meth Taken?

Since meth comes in various forms, there are many ways meth is taken. Crystal meth may be injected or smoked. Powdered meth can be snorted, swallowed, or injected. The liquid form of meth is not typically sold and consumed. Tablets or pills of meth can be taken orally or crushed up into a powder and snorted.

What Are The Effects Of Meth?

The effects and side effects of meth can vary from person to person. This drug will affect both the brain and the body. It’s important to know how this drug can affect you.

Physical Effects

The physical effects of meth can cause concern for anyone who takes the drug. These effects include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Erratic heartbeat or increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Long periods without sleep

Psychological Effects

Because meth is a stimulant drug, it will have many psychological effects. These effects include:

  • Bizarre behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Intense irritability
  • Psychosis
  • Panic and paranoia

How Long Do Effects Last?

The effects of meth last depending on how the drug was taken, how much was taken, and how tolerant the individual is to the drug. If the drug is injected or smoked, the effects will appear almost immediately and can last for several hours. When meth is taken orally or snorted, the effects take a little longer to start, but the effects can last 12 hours or more.

How Long Does Meth Stay In Your System?

The half-life of a drug is how long it takes for the body to eliminate 50% of meth’s active ingredient. Meth’s half-life is about 6-15 hours after someone uses the drug.

How Long Will Meth Show Up On A Drug Test?

Depending on the method of testing, meth can remain in someone’s system for hours or even months. The methods of testing include urine tests, blood tests, saliva, and hair follicle tests.

Meth may show up on a urine test for up to 72 hours after the drug has been taken.[3] Blood and saliva tests have a lower chance than urine tests of detecting methamphetamine and amphetamine. Hair follicle tests can detect meth for up to 90 days.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects of meth can occur when the drug is taken for a prolonged period of time. These effects can cause the health of an individual to decline rapidly. Some of the long-term effects of meth include:[4]

  • Extreme weight loss and malnutrition
  • Psychosis
  • Damage to the blood vessel of the brain and heart
  • Kidney, lung, and liver damage
  • Tooth degeneration (also known as meth mouth)
  • Destruction of the tissues in the nose
  • Depression
  • Brain damage
  • Hypertension, which may lead to stroke, heart attack, or death
  • Respiratory problems
  • Exhaustion, apathy, disorientation, and confusion
  • Psychological dependence and addiction

Health Risks Of Meth

Methamphetamine use carries many health risks. These range from physical to psychological risks. They can cause permanent damage to the body and mind. There is also a high risk of overdosing on meth. This is usually caused by someone who is trying to achieve a “higher” feeling than they are receiving with the drug. It is a highly addictive drug that is often abused and misused.

Signs Of Meth Use

Signs of meth use can usually be seen pretty clearly by others. Because this drug causes so many physical and psychological effects for the person who is using the drug, the signs can be noticed almost right away. Some signs and symptoms of meth use include:

  • Isolating
  • Missing work, school, or appointments
  • Being defensive when someone asks about the drug
  • Appearing exhausted or having poor hygiene
  • Rotten teeth
  • Scratching or itching
  • Increased breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Dental problems
  • Sudden weight loss
  • High body temperature
  • Skin sores
  • Increased heart rate

Meth Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love is suffering from meth addiction, it is essential to seek treatment from a healthcare professional. This is due to the detox process that can present painful or dangerous symptoms.

When detox is started at a detox facility, you will be able to rest assured that you will have around-the-clock care. You will also receive a personalized plan from your healthcare team to help during the detox process.

Once detox has been completed, there are a variety of rehabilitation options that can help you stay on the road to recovery. These options include inpatient and outpatient programs. Daily therapies will often be used in rehabilitation to help you in long-term recovery.

Some beneficial programs and therapies include reiki practices, physical fitness such as personal training, barre, and yoga, experiential therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness interventions.

Ascendant NY is here to help you recover from meth use and abuse. We will use our specialized programs to give you the best chance of succeeding in your recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Meth

Why Do People Start Using Meth?

Meth is a stimulant drug, so it will create feelings of euphoria and allow someone to feel like they are on top of the world. It also helps people stay awake so someone may start using it if they need to stay awake for a long period of time. Oftentimes, it will be used for its weight loss properties when people are trying to lose weight.

Can Someone Overdose On Meth?

Overdoses of meth can happen when someone takes too much of the drug. This will result in unwanted and adverse effects. Too much of the stimulant may cause a variety of side effects, including death.

How Do You Treat A Meth Overdose?

To treat a meth overdose, the first thing that will need to be done is to call 911 or take that person to a hospital for treatment.

Is An Intervention Necessary For Someone Who Abuses Meth?

When someone is abusing meth, and they don’t necessarily want to stop using the drug, an intervention may help. This meeting will allow close family and friends to voice concerns and urge the person with the substance abuse disorder to receive help. This can help someone see how much their drug abuse impacts those around them and realize that they need help for the problem.

It is best to approach an intervention from a place of love and care for the person’s well-being. When it is approached aggressively, it does not work as well as it could.

Can Second-hand Smoke From Meth Cause Health Problems For Others?

Exposure to meth second-hand smoke may cause some issues. These problems may include:
Lung disease
Breathing issues

Is Meth Illegal?

Some forms of meth are legal when they are prescribed for ADHD or weight loss. However, other forms of the drug are illegal.

How Many People Use Meth?

A 2021 Nation Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 2.5 million people or 0.9% of people surveyed, have used meth in the past 12 months.[5]

Is Meth A Pure Drug?

While some forms of meth are pure, oftentimes, the drug will be made or “cooked” with other chemicals. It can also be cut with other drugs and substances to give a different effect.

Can You Withdrawal From Using Meth?

Because meth is a very addictive drug, when someone comes off the drug cold turkey, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

These withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and give someone a very uneasy feeling. Some withdrawal symptoms of meth include:

  • Extreme drug cravings
  • Chills
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawing from others or self-isolation
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of pleasure or depression
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Low mood
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dehydration
  • Irritability
How Is Meth Different From Cocaine Or Other Stimulants?

While both cocaine and meth are stimulant drugs and both release dopamine into the brain, they are very different types of drugs. Meth will produce a much longer-lasting effect than cocaine will. It also releases more dopamine than cocaine does. Cocaine will leave the body much quicker than meth will, but it will also produce short-lasting effects.

Is Making Meth Dangerous?

Making or “cooking” meth can be very dangerous to those that are making it or to those that are exposed to the chemicals that are produced from the production of meth. Coming into contact with the dangerous chemicals that meth produces can cause illness, poisoning, or death. Some chemicals that are used in the production of meth are flammable and may explode or catch fire.

Does Meth Remain On the Surfaces Of Places It Is Made?

Because meth gives off many different chemicals in the process of production, it is possible for those chemicals and the drug to remain on the surfaces of a home or makeshift lab. These chemicals can be dangerous when they are ingested and pose a risk to anyone who is around them.

If you suspect that meth has been produced in a certain area, you can have the authorities test the home or building. This can help you take precautions and rid the area of the chemicals meth produces.

Can Someone Who Is Abusing Meth Recover?

The short answer for if someone who is abusing meth can recover is absolutely! There are many different kinds of treatments available to those who are abusing or misusing meth. Oftentimes, these treatments will come in the form of different therapies, detox programs, or physical activities. These forms of treatment will assist someone with long-term recovery.

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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[1]  Home | (n.d.-b). Retrieved from 

[2] Methamphetamine toxicity – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.-c). Retrieved from

[3] Huestis, M. A., & Cone, E. J. (2007, March). Methamphetamine disposition in oral fluid, plasma, and urine. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from on 2023, June 30th

[4] Methamphetamine – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.-c). Retrieved from 

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023a, February 13). What is the scope of methamphetamine use in the United States?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from