Crystal Meth Long Term Health Effects: Dangerous Chemicals Found in Methamphetamine

Crystal methamphetamine is one of the most destructive illicit drugs in the country, with a very high potential for dependency and addiction. Unlike cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, methamphetamine is not a naturally occurring substance. The first step in overcoming any addiction is understanding it, so it’s vital to understand what crystal meth is, how it works, and what long-term effects it can have.

What Is Crystal Meth? 

Crystal methamphetamine, also called crystal meth, rock, glass, and several other street names, is a crystallized chemical compound that can be smoked, snorted, or injected into the bloodstream. Once it reaches the brain, crystal meth produces intense feelings of excitement and euphoria and gives the user a rush of energy. However, it also greatly impairs judgment and rationality, and it’s common for someone under the influence of crystal meth to act out in bizarre and exaggerated ways.

While crystal meth is fast-acting, it is not long-lasting, and many crystal meth abusers use the drug several times a day once addiction manifests. Withdrawal symptoms can include mood swings, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and depression. Some meth users go into “tweaking” phases when they do not feel the euphoric effects of the drug but still experience the negative side effects as well as temporary psychosis. Tweaking can last days or weeks and cause the individual to enter phases of repetitive actions and other psychotic symptoms. Without intervention, these individuals pose a serious risk to themselves and others.

Long-Term Risks Of Crystal Meth Use 

If a crystal meth addiction goes unchecked for too long, the individual abusing the drug will suffer several significant medical complications. Psychotic symptoms can last for months or years, in some cases, and some individuals will experience relapses into psychotic behaviors when triggered by stress. Crystal meth also damages the brain in several ways. Long-term crystal meth abuse can lead to breakdowns in motor functions, slowed reaction times, and impaired verbal learning capabilities.

A long-term crystal meth addiction can also lead to tooth decay and nutritional deficiencies and can increase susceptibility to infections. A person abusing crystal meth can go days without food in some cases and is more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex with strangers or participating in criminal acts.

Neurobiological Issues From Meth Abuse 

Crystal meth abuse also causes long-term brain damage. While some regions of the brain may recover over time, others may take years to show even slight improvement. People who abuse crystal methamphetamine are at a higher risk of developing degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Over time, crystal meth interferes with the body’s natural reward system and can prevent a meth user from experiencing feelings of happiness without the drug. Part of the reason crystal meth is so devastating for neurological health is the meth manufacturing process.

How Is Crystal Meth Made? 

Some drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, only require minor alterations to plants found in nature. Crystal meth is a synthetic compound that contains several highly toxic substances. The process of making it involves preparing these substances in such a way that it produces a crystalline, glass-like product. Meth dealers then break apart these large pieces of “glass” and sell them in individual doses. If you want to understand how crystal meth affects the body in the long-term, it’s crucial to carefully examine the various compounds used to make it.

One of the biggest dangers of methamphetamine production is the introduction of dangerous chemicals into the surrounding area. While most of the chemicals used in the meth production process exist in liquid form, they can also come in gas form or create vapors if mishandled. Most individuals handling illegal drug manufacturing operations do not bother with workplace safety protocols or even basic chemical safety, so meth lab explosions and toxic exposure in residential areas are serious causes of concern for law enforcement and policymakers.

Some of the chemicals used in meth production are toxic immediately, while others will produce adverse symptoms after exposure over a long time. It’s essential to know which chemicals are vital to the meth manufacturing process, so you can tell if someone may be running a meth lab nearby. A meth lab chemical leak or explosion can cause property damage and severe injuries to everyone in the vicinity.

Acetone In Methamphetamine 

The methamphetamine production process includes several chemicals you’ve likely seen elsewhere. While some of the substances are perfectly legal to buy and own, law enforcement tracks these items to look for larger-than-usual orders or odd buying habits to crack down on illegal methamphetamine production. The first ingredient, and a common item in many homes and businesses is acetone.

What Is Acetone?

Acetone is a liquid solvent most commonly used as a paint remover. Most nail polish removers are acetone-based compounds, and the substance can break down healthy tissues with repeat exposures. People who regularly use acetone nail polish remover often notice their nails become more brittle over time, and the nail may actually start to separate from the nail bed due to the repeated acetone exposure.

Health Effects Of Acetone Poisoning 

Acetone is a vital chemical in the crystal methamphetamine production process, but it can have devastating effects on its own, as well. Acetone poisoning can cause headaches, lethargy, and slurred speech. It may also induce a coma or deep stupor and cause low blood pressure. Without treatment, acetone poisoning can be fatal. There is no “cure” for acetone poisoning, so a person who experiences this condition will require medical assistance and supervision until his or her body processes it.

Lithium In Methamphetamine 

Many people take lithium as a mood stabilizer, but this substance also plays a role in crystal methamphetamine production. When used correctly, lithium can prevent incidents of mania and reduce the symptoms of major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

What Is Lithium? 

Lithium is a pure element (found on the Periodic Table of Elements) that works in combination with other substances in many ways. While there is no clear answer as to how lithium works to counteract the symptoms of bipolar disorders, it’s important to recognize that the element can be toxic in a high enough dose. Most people who require lithium as a mood stabilizer take anywhere from 900 to 1,200 milligrams during a typical day, and some people may require larger doses for acute symptomatic episodes.

Health Effects Of Lithium Poisoning 

A safe level of lithium in the body is anywhere from 0.6 and 1.2 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). Toxicity manifests at 1.5 mEq/L and severe toxicity appears at 2.0 mEq/L. Any amount higher than 3.0 mEq/L is a medical emergency. Any type of lithium poisoning will necessitate medical intervention to return lithium levels in the body to safe ranges, and severe lithium poisoning may require stomach pumping or surgical treatments.

Toluene In Methamphetamine 

One of the other essential ingredients of the crystal methamphetamine production process is toluene, a byproduct of the crude oil refinement process. The Tolu tree also contains trace amounts of the substance naturally, but most of the refined toluene in circulation comes from oil refinement.

What Is Toluene? 

Toluene is a very aromatic hydrocarbon solvent. It can act as an octane booster in combustion engines when combined with gasoline and can function as a substitute for benzene in some industrial applications.

Health Effects Of Toluene Poisoning 

The human body processes toluene much the same way as alcohol, but toluene is very difficult to detect. Over time, toluene can reach toxic levels from deliberately inhaling solvents or regular environmental exposure. People who have suffered toxic toluene exposure often display various types of brain damage, toxic polyneuropathy, and persistent tremors. These tremors will progressively worsen even after an individual flushes the toluene out of his or her body and has avoided additional exposure after recovery.

Hydrochloric Acid In Methamphetamine 

The methamphetamine production process involves some chemicals that are extremely hazardous and even deadly on their own. Some can also cause serious environmental and structural damage, and one of the most dangerous is hydrochloric acid.

What Is Hydrochloric Acid? 

Hydrochloric acid is a very strong, corrosive acidic compound used as a reagent in laboratories, created by dissolving hydrogen chloride in water. Human beings actually have hydrochloric acid in their bodies naturally as part of the digestive system. Digestive acid in the stomach is primarily hydrochloric acid, but the body naturally manages this substance, so it does not harm the rest of the body. It can also take gaseous form and cause serious medical problems if it comes into contact with a person.

Health Effects Of Hydrochloric Acid Poisoning 

Hydrochloric acid is extremely dangerous both externally and internally. When inhaled, hydrochloric acid fumes can cause inflammation in the respiratory tracts as well as burns to the face, eyes, nasal passages, and throat. Skin contact will result in extreme pain and burning injuries, and too much hydrochloric acid exposure can cause pulmonary edema, circulatory system failure, and death. Unlike some of the other substances on this list, the effects of hydrochloric acid poisoning are immediately visible and require emergency medical assistance.

Pseudoephedrine In Methamphetamine 

Pseudoephedrine is actually a common ingredient in many over-the-counter medications such as nasal decongestants. However, since crystal meth manufacturers have become aware of this apparent easy availability of a vital ingredient, many stores have started keeping medications that contain pseudoephedrine behind the counter and tracking abnormal purchases.

What Is Pseudoephedrine? 

Pseudoephedrine is an effective decongestant and stimulant. You can likely find it in many over-the-counter sinus medications as well as fat-burning dietary supplements. When used correctly and as intended, pseudoephedrine can smooth the muscles of the nasal passageways and decongest the sinuses. It also causes blood vessels to contract, reducing inflammation.

Health Effects Of Pseudoephedrine Poisoning 

Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine has a high potential for abuse due to the fact that it creates intense bursts of energy by acting as a stimulant. When abused, pseudoephedrine can cause hallucinations, seizures, hypertension, and a host of other symptoms.

Red Phosphorus In Methamphetamine 

Phosphorous in its white form will turn to red phosphorus after exposure to heat or sunlight. While less volatile than white phosphorous, red phosphorous is still capable of spontaneous combustion and is a highly volatile and poisonous non-metallic element.

What Is Red Phosphorous? 

If you have ever used matches, road flares, or certain flame-retardant plastics, you have likely encountered red phosphorous. Thanks to its volatile properties, red phosphorous can act as a fire starter and produce a bright red glow when ignited under certain conditions, such as a road flare. It’s also incredibly volatile and can cause explosions, and direct exposure can result in poisoning.

Health Effects Of Red Phosphorous Poisoning 

Phosphorous is extremely toxic, and a lethal dose can be anywhere from 60 milligrams to 100 milligrams. Once introduced to the body, it will wreak havoc on the heart, liver, and kidneys. It can also cause central nervous system cells to undergo internal asphyxia, potentially impacting organ function, cardiovascular function, and other central nervous system functions.

Sodium Hydroxide In Methamphetamine 

Sodium hydroxide is one of the most important industrial chemicals available. It acts by dissolving tissues and commonly exists in an aqueous solution form or as crystalline powder. In industrial applications, sodium hydroxide is a powerful cleaning and sanitation agent, but it is also an essential ingredient in crystal meth production.

What Is Sodium Hydroxide? 

While sodium hydroxide is essential for the production of cleaning products and detergents, it is incredibly harmful to human beings. Avoid any direct contact with sodium hydroxide in any form. When it comes into contact with the eyes or skin, it can cause redness and severe irritation. When inhaled it can damage the respiratory tract and result in breathing difficulties and severe burning in the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Sodium hydroxide can also cause severe damage to the digestive system if consumed.

Health Effects Of Sodium Hydroxide Poisoning 

Sodium hydroxide poisoning can easily be fatal without immediate medical intervention. Depending on the severity of exposure, the internal damage from sodium hydroxide can cause medical complications that last for years or result in permanent damage. When it comes in contact with the eyes, permanent vision loss is highly likely.

Sulfuric Acid In Methamphetamine 

Another dangerous acid used to make crystal methamphetamine is sulfuric acid, which is also a staple of the industrial sector. In industrial applications, sulfuric acid is a powerful solvent and processing agent. It’s worth noting that many people who process crystal methamphetamine illegally obtain their raw materials through industrial connections or misappropriating industrial materials, and sulfuric acid is highly accessible due to its wide variety of uses and applications.

What Is Sulfuric Acid? 

Sulfuric acid is a very acidic, oily liquid, and acts as both an oxidizing and dehydrating agent. It is available in several grades, each with its own applications. In legitimate uses, sulfuric acid is a vital component of paper, battery, and gasoline production and is an important part of any steel production operation.

Health Effects Of Sulfuric Acid Poisoning 

Sulfuric acid is another corrosive chemical that will cause immediately noticeable symptoms. When sulfuric acid contacts the skin, it will cause severe burns and intense pain. It can also cause vision loss if it comes into contact with a person’s eyes. When ingested, sulfuric acid can cause respiratory problems, choking, chest pains, and low blood pressure.

Anhydrous Ammonia In Methamphetamine 

Most of the chemicals in the crystal meth production process are incredibly dangerous, but the people who use these substances to make meth rarely take safety precautions to protect those nearby from exposure. This is especially dangerous with the compounds that can take gaseous form, such as anhydrous ammonia. Most people can easily recognize ammonia by its notoriously bad smell, similar to cat urine.

What Is Anhydrous Ammonia? 

Anhydrous ammonia is the compressed gas or liquid form of ammonia that contains no water. Its primary use is as an industrial cleaner, but it is also an ingredient in many fertilizers and in pharmaceutical productions as a reagent.

Health Effects Of Anhydrous Ammonia Poisoning 

Anyone handling anhydrous ammonia for legitimate purposes should wear personal protective equipment to guard the eyes, skin, and respiratory system from ammonia. Ammonia will irritate the eyes and respiratory system with too much exposure, and toxic shock and death are possible after severe exposure. Although there is no definitive way to judge toxic ammonia exposure levels, exposure will likely result in death if it causes a pulmonary edema.

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