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Smoking & Snorting Meth: How Each Affects the Body

Any use of meth is incredibly dangerous. When the drug is snorted or smoked, it comes with additional risks.

 

Meth Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that methamphetamine is a significant drug of abuse. Street meth, or crystal meth, is a privately and illegally manufactured substance that contains numerous additives that can be toxic.

Pharmaceutical methamphetamine goes by the brand name Desoxyn. This is a legitimate medication that can be used in the treatment of narcolepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Meth is a controlled substance due to its potential for abuse and the very real likelihood that individuals taking the drug will develop a physical dependence on it. It is listed in the Schedule II category of controlled substances by the  U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — a category that also contains drugs like cocaine and the majority of opioids. These drugs have legitimate medical uses, but they are very dangerous if not used under the supervision of a physician.

How Does Meth Work?

NIDA and the DEA have documented the mechanism by which meth works. It is a powerful stimulant medication that results in the release of excitatory neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine.

Initial feelings associated with methamphetamine use and abuse include:

  • Increased energy.
  • Increase in autonomic nervous system functioning, such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
  • Heightened feelings of awareness.
  • Decreased appetite and a decreased need for sleep.

The medication has a paradoxical effect when used in small doses by individuals with attention issues like ADHD. Meth actually helps these individuals to focus better and lowers their physical activity levels, whereas in people without such a disorder, the drug produces stimulant-like effects.  

Abusers of the drug experience dysfunctional levels of hyperactivity and decreased attention, and can even experience hallucinations and paranoid delusions.

Meth Abuse Statistics

According to the latest data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (PDF) (SAMHSA):

  • In 2017, 14.7 million individuals reported some lifetime use of meth.
  • In 2017, 1.6 million individuals reported using meth within the year prior to the survey.
  • In 2017, 774,000 individuals reported using meth within the month prior to the survey.
  • Of the individuals reporting past-month use of meth, 564,000 were Caucasian.

The Effects of Meth Abuse

Meth abuse produces rapid euphoria, increased energy, and feelings of invulnerability. 

Smoking Meth

People using meth may become irrational and even psychotic, particularly when large amounts of the drug are used in a bingeing fashion. The effects occur rapidly and then dissipate quickly, leading to feelings of:

  • Hopelessness, depression, or apathy.
  • Irritability, restlessness, and nervousness.
  • An empty feeling and an intense need to recapture the euphoria produced by the drug.
  • Significant cravings to reuse the drug.

Because the drug wears off rapidly, individuals will binge on the drug in an attempt to maintain the associated euphoria, energy rush, and perception of heightened awareness.

Snorting Meth vs. Smoking Meth

Two of the most common methods of abusing meth are to grind up shards of crystal meth and snort or smoke them. Another common method of abuse is to inject the drug.

There are major differences between snorting and smoking the drug.

  • Snorting results in the drug exerting its effects more quickly. It is delivered into the central nervous system more quickly than by swallowing it.
    Smoking the drug results in a much more efficient delivery to the brain than snorting it.
  • The initial effects of the drug wear off quickly when one snorts it; however, they wear off even more quickly when one smokes it.
  • Snorting meth will greatly increase damage to the nasal tissues. Smoking the drug will result in more significant damage to the lungs and more rapid development of respiratory problems.
  • Physical dependence on meth (the development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms) occurs rapidly, but it will occur more rapidly in individuals who habitually smoke the substance.
  • The long-term detrimental effects of snorting meth and smoking meth are similar. However, habitual smokers of the drug will most likely experience more severe effects, and they will occur in a shorter period of time. This is due to the drug being more efficiently delivered into the central nervous system and to other organs.

Long-Term Physical Consequences of Meth Abuse

Research has identified numerous physical consequences associated with abuse of methamphetamine.

  • Substantial weight loss and an unhealthy, gaunt appearance
  • Sores developing on the skin
  • Very dry and cracked skin
  • Problems with dentition, particularly tooth loss and corrosion
  • Chronic nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Increased potential for nasal infections, particularly from chronic snorting
  • Burn marks around the mouth, nose, or on the fingertips for individuals who smoke the drug
  • Various cardiovascular issues, including high blood pressure and heartbeat irregularities
  • Damage to the liver
  • Kidney damage
  • The development of respiratory issues and lung damage
  • Increased potential to develop infections due to compromised immune system functioning
  • Tremors or other motor problems due to changes in the brain
  • Significant tolerance to meth

Withdrawal symptoms when one cannot use the drug

Cognitive and Emotional Consequences

Meth abuse leads to many changes in the pathways of the brain. (PDF) This can lead to numerous cognitive and emotional issues.

  • A constant cycle of massive neurotransmitter release and depletion can lead to individuals having difficulty experiencing pleasure from activities other than drug use.
  • Problems with basic cognitive functions become apparent in chronic users of meth, including issues with paying attention, remembering new information, and judgment.
  • Chronic meth users may become depressed, irritable, or nervous when they are not using the drug due to the changes in the brain.
  • Over time, the development of tolerance to meth results in the person not experiencing significant pleasure or euphoria from using the drug. Instead, they use the drug to avoid the negative feelings associated with withdrawal or as a result of changes in the neural pathways of the brain.
  • Those who chronically abuse meth demonstrate problems with emotional control and impulsivity. They are more likely to experience psychotic episodes.

Which Is Worse: Snorting or Smoking Meth?

The effects of smoking meth can lead to a more rapid cycle of deterioration with significantly more adverse effects in a quicker timeframe, but snorting meth can also produce serious issues at a less rapid pace. Ultimately, it really depends on the person, the frequency and amount of the drug they use, and other issues.

For the most part, individuals who smoke meth will experience these issues at greater levels of severity and more quickly than individuals who sort the drug. However, these negative effects occur in anyone who abuses meth in any manner.