Crystal Meth Causes Severe Heart Damage

Crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth or "ice") is a potent stimulant drug that can damage the heart. Meth causes blood vessels to narrow and spasm, dramatically increasing blood pressure and heart rate while damaging the heart muscle at the molecular level.

As a result, cardiovascular disease is the second-leading cause of death among crystal meth users following accidental overdose. Crystal meth can independently increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failureacute coronary syndrome, cardiac arrest, and sudden death.

This article describes what crystal meth is, its effect on the body, and how this addictive street drug damages not only the heart but other vital organs.

Methamphetamine also known as crystal meth
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What Is Meth?

Crystal meth (Also known as "crank," "tweak," "ice," "glass," "chalk," "tina," and others) is a highly addictive street drug that belongs to the larger class of drugs known as amphetamines. It has no medical use.

It is called crystal meth because it resembles tiny ice crystals or rock candy. It can be snorted, smoked, or injected and produces quick, powerful highs characterized by feelings of euphoria and hypersexuality.

The physical effects of crystal meth are equally powerful, causing:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hyperactivity
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flushed skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Twitching or tremors
  • Dry mouth
  • Teeth grinding
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Insomnia

Long-term use of crystal meth can lead to acne, skin sores, bug-crawling sensations on the skin, and tooth decay and loss (referred to as "meth mouth").

In the United States, overdose deaths from crystal meth nearly tripled from 2015 to 2019, according to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study reported that the number of deaths involving stimulant drugs other than cocaine rose from 5,526 to 15,489—a 180% increase. Crystal meth accounted for the vast majority of these deaths.

Effects of Crystal Meth on the Body

Crystal meth can have profound effects on most organ systems of the body.

Over time, the euphoric effects of crystal meth on the brain and nervous system can start to wane and require higher and more frequent doses to prevent "crashing" (characterized by severe fatigue, weakness, and depression).

With long-term use, crystal meth can trigger anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, compulsive behaviors, confusion, and psychosis.

Lung-related complications of crystal meth abuse include pulmonary edema ("water in the lungs"), pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), and pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs).

Skin sores often arise from scratching due to bug-crawling sensations on the skin paired with increased skin dryness. People who inject crystal meth often develop skin ulcers and severe bacterial infections that can lead to septicemia (a blood infection) and sepsis (a severe immune overreaction to the blood infection).

Transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV is also common.

But, some of the most dangerous effects of crystal meth involve the cardiovascular system.

Heart Damage Caused by Crystal Meth

Crystal meth places profound stress on the cardiovascular system. Tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and hypertension (high blood pressure) are almost always present, placing excessive strain on the heart and cardiovascular system at large.

If addiction occurs, the persistent strain on the heart can lead to cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart muscle) and structural changes that cause heart failure (the inability of the heart to pump adequate blood to tissues of the body).

In people with risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD), crystal meth can accelerate the condition, leading to atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries") and cardiac ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart). The combination of these coupled with tachycardia and high blood pressure can cause an atherosclerotic plaque to break off and cause a heart attack or stroke. 

A crystal meth overdose can also lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death. This is because the drug effectively "rewires" the nerves that regulate heartbeats and, in severe cases, can cause the ventricles of the heart (which pump blood through the body) to fail catastrophically.

Even at lower doses, some people may experience life-threatening arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) during which the heart may be unable to pump enough blood to sustain life or altogether stop. 

Even if a crystal meth user manages to kick the habit, blood vessel damage in the heart—as well as the lungs, brain, kidneys, and liver—may be irreversible,

Crystal Meth Overdose

A crystal meth overdose is a medical emergency, due in large part to an increased risk of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of a crystal meth overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Arrhythmia
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Extreme agitation
  • Rapid or slow heartbeat
  • High body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Call 911 if you suspect that someone has overdosed on crystal meth. The faster that a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Even with successful emergency treatment, some symptoms like psychosis and paranoia can persist for up to one year (particularly in long-time users). Ongoing care may be needed to monitor for heart disease as well as complications involving the brain, lungs, kidneys, or liver.

9 Sources
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