Methamphetamine, also called crystal meth or simply meth, is a dangerous, addictive and often deadly drug.
The drug is made from ingredients that are extracted from cold medicine, and then it’s created when mixed with chemicals and highly corrosive and explosive chemicals. Meth is a stimulant, which means when someone takes it, whether they smoke it, snort it or inject it, they will experience a euphoric high because of a flood of dopamine in the brain. That’s often followed, however, by a period of depression and over time there can be serious and deadly health and mental effects stemming from the use of meth.
One possible outcome is called meth psychosis, so what causes it and what are the signs?
The American Psychiatric Associate defines psychosis as a period when someone is experiencing both hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations are what happens when you have the perception that something is there when it isn’t. For example, you may see something that’s not there, and along with drug use, some of the other reasons people may experience hallucinations include mental illnesses like schizophrenia.
When you hallucinate, you might not just visualize things that aren’t there, but you can hear voices which is called an auditory hallucination, or you might smell things and think they’re around you or that you’re emitting the phantom odors.
It’s also possible to have gustatory hallucinations, which are thinking that you’re tasting things, and tactile hallucinations mean you feel like something is touching you that isn’t.
Also part of meth psychosis, as was touched on, is the presence of delusions at the same time as hallucinations. Delusions refer to a person having beliefs that aren’t true. There are different categories of delusions which include persecutory delusions. This means that you think you’re being tortured, tricked, made fun of or spied on. Referential delusions refer to a situation where someone thinks that something from a song lyric or a TV show as an example is directed at them.
An example of a common delusion people experience is thinking they are being followed by the police when they’re not.
When people use meth, particularly for a prolonged period, they’re at risk of psychosis. During this time they lose touch with reality, and in addition to delusions and hallucinations, a meth psychosis can also include general paranoia and obsessive compulsive behavior.
During meth psychosis, the addict may start to believe that people are out to get them, and they may think that run-of-the-mill objects are watching them or equipped with surveillance equipment.
Another sign of meth psychosis is increased aggression, which occurs as the brain loses the ability to manage impulses. When people use meth, specifically chronically, they tend to lose their ability to respond rationally to what’s happening around them, and this is what leads to aggression or violence.
Regarding obsessive compulsive behaviors, when people are prolonged meth abusers, they may start to do things over and over again, such as cleaning at a mad pace or washing their hands over and over again. This can also be why people have sores on their skin, because they scratch at it, or bald patches from pulling hair out.
When someone experiences meth psychosis, it may end when they come down from the drug, but in some cases, it could last longer than the high of meth. For some, it can last for days, but unfortunately, meth damage can mean that some people have permanent psychosis, or it occurs when they’re no longer using the drug.
So what is it about meth that causes a high risk of experiencing meth psychosis, even as compared to other illicit drugs?
It starts because meth impacts the brain’s natural chemical balance. When you take meth, you’re altering the homeostasis of the chemistry of your brain, and your brain may respond in ways that trigger meth psychosis.
When someone takes meth, it releases a huge and unnatural amount of dopamine into the brain all at one time. Then, your natural dopamine reserves become depleted, and your body becomes unable to make more. As you continue doing meth, it overstimulates the temporal lobe of the brain, which is why it creates meth psychosis, and this is believed to be experienced by about two-thirds of meth users.
The amygdala of the brain is also affected, and when it’s stimulated, it raises fear levels and makes the person think they’re in survival mode. People who experience meth psychosis have these symptoms because their brain is off-balance, and as a result, they feel like they’re in danger and they need to escape the danger. For many meth users, symptoms of paranoia can manifest within just a few months of using the drug.
In addition to stimulating areas of the brain that play a role in emotions and anxiety, using meth also interacts with the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system, which can lead to aggression, violence and a lack of impulse control.
Many of the symptoms of meth psychosis are associated with the signature appearance often associated with meth users, such as the sores and damaged skin.
Meth psychosis isn’t uncommon in people who use the drug, and that’s important to note. In fact, it’s highly common, and most people who use meth will experience some level of psychosis which can range in severity.
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