While most of us have been focused on the wake of destruction fentanyl has caused in our society, one drug that should not be overlooked is methamphetamine. While all eyes have been on the pandemic and fentanyl epidemic, another was quietly simmering below the surface. While the overdose figures don’t quite match opioids, methamphetamine has slowly become the most abused illicit drug in the United States.
Throughout the pandemic, many people have sought ways to overcome the loneliness caused by lockdowns. With a substantial portion of the population losing their jobs, a drug like meth is perfect – it’s cheap, potent, and easily accessible.
According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report, an estimated 2.6 million people over the age of 12 reported meth use in 2020, with 1.5 million of those diagnosed with a methamphetamine use disorder. Even worse, a total of 23,837 people lost their lives from an overdose involving psychostimulants, primarily methamphetamine. Many people look at prescription stimulants like Adderall and assume meth is harmless, but that’s simply not the case. The continued use of meth has led to complex medical challenges and crises for families and healthcare providers.
In the past several years, street meth has transformed into a highly potent and pure drug. Clandestine labs across our southern border are home to super labs, which produce this drug en masse and flood our country. Even when border agents make large seizures, they know more is making it across while they’re busy with this bust. With such large amounts coming through, the price has dropped dramatically. With its high purity and low prices, it has led to chaos. Many experts agree that it’s hard to call it meth anymore as it’s different chemically than it was a decade ago. It has led to a wave of severe mental illness and worsened the homeless crisis across our country.
Meth hallucinations can occur with low purity meth, so you can imagine the side effects of “super meth.” If you live in big cities, it’s hard to ignore people who are homeless on the streets. While some of them are battling mental health issues, others could be experiencing meth-induced psychosis. Below, we’ll discuss how meth-induced psychosis works and how to avoid it.
What Is Meth?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines meth as a potent, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS). Meth in the past took the form of a white powder, but today’s meth is more commonly found as a clear, odorless crystal that dissolves in alcohol or water. The drug was initially developed in what is known as amphetamine and was used in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Similar to methamphetamine, amphetamine produced euphoria and a decreased need to eat. The two drugs differ at comparable doses, as meth can reach your brain in higher doses.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies meth as a Schedule II stimulant, meaning it is legally available through a nonrefillable prescription. In some cases, it’s used to treat medical conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as a short-term means of helping with weight loss. However, these uses are limited, and it’s rarely prescribed.
How Does Meth Affect the Brain?
As a potent stimulant, meth profoundly affects the central nervous system. The immediate impact of the drug is how it increases norepinephrine and dopamine, known as neurotransmitters. Meth has also been shown to affect serotonin, another neurotransmitter responsible for happiness. When you increase the number of neurotransmitters in the brain, you induce a sense of euphoria, which is what gets people hooked on the drug. Tasks that seemed boring are now enjoyable after using meth.
The interaction between neurotransmitters and meth leads to psychoactive effects. Albeit short-lived, they can be severe. It occurs when someone snorts or smokes the drug since that causes a direct delivery to the central nervous system. The sudden rush of meth is potent, along with the short-lived effects. It’s responsible for people wanting more of the drug and repeatedly abusing it. When this occurs, you’ll build what’s known as a tolerance, meaning you’ll need more of the drug to produce the same effects you’re used to feeling, causing you to become dependent and crave more meth.
Over time, meth use will eventually cause stimulant-induced psychosis, a disorder that occurs with the abuse of any stimulant, but most commonly from meth. It can result in visual hallucinations, dread, paranoid delusions, and a strong sense of panic. Long-term meth use can also cause physical side effects, such as respiratory and cardiovascular damage. Meth will also impact your cognitive function.
Can Meth Make You Hallucinate?
Many people might believe hallucinations are seeing things that aren’t there. While that’s part of it, there’s a lot more to it. Hallucinations can consist of feeling, seeing, or smelling something that doesn’t exist. Meth abuse is notorious for causing meth psychosis, which consists of hallucinations, but the intensity varies depending on specific factors. Psychosis is characterized as a state of being when the individual loses contact with reality.
Meth hallucinations include the following:
- Visual hallucinations, which consist of seeing things that aren’t here, such as animals, objects, or people.
- Auditory hallucinations, which consist of hearing things that aren’t there, such as voices that don’t exist or music.
- Olfactory hallucinations, which consist of smelling something that isn’t present in their environment, such as cologne or food that isn’t there.
- Tactile hallucinations, which consist of feelings caused by something that doesn’t exist. The individual believes they are being touched or bugs are crawling on their skin, which is common with meth users.
- Gustatory hallucinations, which consist of tasting something not present in someone’s mouth.
The most common meth hallucinations are visual. However, tactile hallucinations are also common. Individuals experiencing a co-occurring disorder that affects their psychological health, such as schizophrenia, are more likely to encounter auditory hallucinations. The psychosis produced by meth is still psychosis, even if it’s not related to a mental health condition, meaning the signs, symptoms, and response to meth-induced hallucinations and psychosis are similar to the hallucinations caused by schizophrenia or other mental health conditions.
Meth can cause more than hallucinations, especially with the more potent meth that’s flooding the streets today, but it can also lead to meth-induced delusions. Delusions are fixed, rigid beliefs that someone believes are real, no matter the evidence used to dispute them. Meth delusions vary, but paranoid delusions are the most common. These occur when someone thinks a person is trying to harm them somehow.
Another common delusion caused by meth is known as grandiose delusion. This causes someone to believe they’re incredibly important. For example, they might assume they’re royalty or that they hold power over the world around them. Another delusion, known as erotomanic delusion, is when the individual is convinced someone is in love with them, even if it’s not true. The person could be a celebrity, a stranger, or someone they’ve made up in their mind.
The use of meth leads to countless forms of delusions, but the most common delusions cause suspicions or paranoia. In some cases, delusions mix together to form a complex system of delusions, consisting of false beliefs that construct an entirely new false reality.
The onset of hallucinations or delusions is a major sign of meth-induced psychosis. In its earliest stages, meth psychosis will come and go, and the individual will maintain a degree of sanity with the reality around them, enabling them to decipher between fact and fiction. However, the longer they use meth, they’ll experience full psychotic breaks that cause them to lose touch with reality.
Helping Someone with Meth Psychosis
Watching someone you love go through this is devastating. You know it’s the drug, but they refuse to stop using meth because they’re entangled in their addiction. From the outside looking in, you might wonder if hope exists. Although it’s not easy, the individual can find normalcy again. However, they must be responsive enough to seek help in the earliest stages before they endure a full psychotic break.
Either way, you must proceed with caution. The best way to approach someone during a psychotic break is to remain calm, distract them, reduce stimulation, ask them to describe what they’re experiencing, and never reinforce their hallucinations or delusions. Always tell them they’re safe and that you’re there to help.