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How Does Crystal Meth Affect the Nervous System

Although methamphetamine has long been known to cause severe damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and reproductive organs, recent research suggests that its effects may extend beyond the body. In particular, researchers have begun to investigate whether chronic exposure to meth causes lasting changes in the brain, resulting in nervous system damage. Read our How Does Crystal Meth Affect the Nervous System guide to learn more about the detrimental effects of methamphetamine abuse.

What is Crystal Meth?

In addition to its stimulating effects, crystal meth has a number of adverse health consequences including increased risk of stroke, heart attack, liver damage, and psychosis. It can cause serious physical problems if used long-term, including kidney failure and death.

Crystal methamphetamine is an extremely addictive drug that affects the brain’s dopamine system. The more you use it, the stronger your addiction becomes. This means that even after you stop using crystal meth, you will still crave it because your brain will always associate it with pleasure.

Crystal methamphetamine is made by combining two chemicals: pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is found naturally in many over-the-counter cold medications, while ephedrine is derived from plants like kola nuts and ma huang.

Pseudoephedrine is converted into methamphetamine when mixed with ephedrine. Ephedrine is much more potent than pseudoephedrine, so only small amounts of ephedrine are needed to produce a large amount of methamphetamine.

How Does Crystal Meth Affect the Nervous System?

Crystal meth affects the nervous system and brain in a few different ways. Methamphetamine affects the brain by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for producing feelings of pleasure. It has a short half-life, meaning that once the drug wears off, users feel its effects less intensely.

It’s not just the user who feels these effects; others around them can experience them too. Meth makes people talk faster, move more quickly, and act more aggressively. Users often become paranoid and anxious, fearing that someone is trying to harm them. They also have trouble sleeping because they find themselves awake at night.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin), another type of amphetamine, is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, unlike meth, methylphenidate does not affect the brain’s reward centers, making it easier to control.

Researchers believe that one reason why meth causes such widespread neurological damage is that it alters the structure of certain regions of the brain. For example, meth decreases the size of the hippocampus, a region involved in learning and memory. Crystal meth can affect the nervous system and brain, which can cause long-term damage.

In addition to causing structural changes in the brain, meth also disrupts communication between nerve cells. One study found that meth reduces the activity of glutamate receptors, which play an important role in transmitting signals within the brain. As a result, neurons don’t receive enough stimulation to fire properly, leading to impaired function.

Effects of Crystal Meth on the Brain

Beyond its stimulating effects, crystal methamphetamine causes damage to the brain by increasing levels of free radicals. These free radicals cause oxidative stress, which damages DNA and proteins. Oxidative stress has been linked to many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Furthermore, meth has negative effects on the brain’s ability to keep your body healthy overall. For example, meth kills glial cells. Glial cells are a big part of the central nervous system  These cells help the body to fight infections. 

Meth especially damages glial cells in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that allows for judgment, planning, attention, and abstract thinking. In other words, meth can damage cognitive abilities. In addition, meth also has negative effects on dopamine and serotonin levels.

Dopamine and serotonin are essentially the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Dopamine is released during pleasurable activities. Meth forces the brain to use stored dopamine.  Overuse can cause the brain to completely use up this stored dopamine. As a result, a person can experience negative effects on their mood.

Further,  activities that an individual once found pleasurable will no longer be as pleasurable. Research shows that methamphetamine can cause issues with the brain such as: 

  • Slower motor speed
  • Diminished verbal learning 
  • Compromised decision-making ability 
  •  Less mental flexibility

Meth also has a negative impact on cells in the brain called microglia. These cells help to clean up damaged brain cells and fight infection. Meth increases the activity of microglia, which leads to the damage of healthy brain cells. 

Mental Effects of Crystal Meth

While some people report feeling relaxed after using crystal meth, others describe experiencing anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis. These symptoms may last for hours or days. In addition, users often experience a strong craving for more drugs.

Methamphetamine abuse is known to cause heart problems, including irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and fainting. Some studies suggest that long-term use of meth can contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Long-term use of methamphetamine can cause permanent physical and mental damage.

distressed woman experiences negative effects of crystal meth

Treatment for Crystal Meth

There are several treatment options available for crystal meth addiction, including outpatient rehab programs, residential detoxification centers, and medications. Medications used to treat methamphetamine abuse include bupropion (Zyban), dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and methylphenidate (Ritalin).

  • Bupropion works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine back into the presynaptic neuron. This prevents their depletion from the synapse and allows more of them to remain active. Bupropion helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Dextroamphetamine works similarly to amphetamines, but it is metabolized differently. Instead of being broken down by monoamine oxidase, dextroamphetamine is converted into noradrenaline. Noradrenaline binds to receptors in the same way as norepinephrine, causing the same effects as amphetamines.
  • Methylphenidates work by binding to dopamine transporters. Once bound to the transporter, the drug cannot be released into the synaptic cleft, so there is no increase in dopamine activity. As a result, methylphenidate reduces the intensity of the produced by cocaine and amphetamines.

Some people choose to take part in an intensive outpatient program to help them recover from their addiction. Outpatient rehab programs provide counseling and group therapy sessions. They allow patients to continue living at home while receiving medical care.

Inpatient rehab programs offer 24/7 supervision and support. Patients stay in a facility where they receive individual and group therapy. They also attend regular meetings with counselors who monitor their progress and help them develop coping skills.

Residential detoxification centers are designed specifically for those who need immediate assistance recovering from crystal meth abuse. Residential detoxification centers provide medically supervised withdrawal and stabilization. Many facilities have special units for pregnant women and children.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is useful when combined with behavioral therapies. While these treatments do not replace traditional psychotherapy, they can be helpful if you find yourself unable to cope without your substance of choice.

group therapy during crystal meth treatment in Nashville

Crystal Meth Treatment in Nashville, TN

In Nashville, there are many different types of treatment available for methamphetamine addiction. These include medications, behavioral therapy, counseling, and other programs. It may be helpful to seek out additional resources if you feel like you’re not getting any better. Contact admissions at Brentwood Springs Detox.

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