Crystal Meth Causes Severe Heart Damage

Crystal Meth also Damages the Kidneys, Liver and More

Crystal meth, a form of methamphetamine, is an illegal, dangerous, and very addictive street drug. Its popularity is due to the euphoric and hallucinogenic effects it produces, and to the fact that opioid abusers sometimes will use crystal meth as a substitute when opioids become difficult to obtain.

Crystal meth can have profoundly negative effects on several organ systems, including the brain, lungs, stomach and bowels, mouth, and skin. But some of the most profound toxicity of this drug relates to the cardiovascular system. Crystal meth can cause stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, acute coronary syndrome, cardiac arrest, and sudden death.

Methamphetamine also known as crystal meth
kaarsten / Getty Images

Amphetamine Abuse

Methamphetamine belongs to the class of drugs known as amphetamines, stimulants that have both legitimate medical uses and illicit uses. Crystal meth is an illicit form of methamphetamine. It resembles tiny ice crystals or rock candy, and it can be snorted, smoked or injected, producing quick, powerful highs that make it addictive.

In 2012, 535,000 Americans were estimated to meet the diagnostic criteria for abuse or dependence on crystal meth or other stimulants, a significant proportion of the 20 million people ages 12 and over who take illicit drugs. It has been further estimated that about 5% of American high school seniors have used crystal meth—also called "crank," "tweak," "ice" or "glass," among other names—at least once.

Effects of Crystal Meth on the Body

Crystal meth can have profound effects across most organ systems. Common side effects include itchy skin, acne, loss of appetite, dry mouth, flushing, constipation, diarrhea, headache, numbness, profuse sweating, dizziness, and blurred vision.

Effects on the brain and nervous system are particularly common and prominent and may include anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, insomnia, compulsive behaviors, and cognitive disorders. When crystal meth is taken regularly, psychosis may occur.

Lung problems caused by methamphetamine include rapid breathing, pulmonary edemapulmonary hypertension, and pulmonary hemorrhage.

Damage to the nose and throat may be caused by snorting the drug, and in chronic users extensive tooth decay is common. This is called “meth mouth.”

But some of the most consequential effects of crystal meth are related to the cardiovascular system.

Heart Damage Caused by Crystal Meth

Crystal meth places profound stress on the cardiovascular system. Tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and hypertension (elevated blood pressure) are almost always present. Both chronic users and new users can develop cardiac ischemia, heart attack, and cardiomyopathy and heart failure. 

Intoxication with crystal meth can produce total cardiovascular collapse and death. This event often occurs very rapidly, in people who have become so agitated that they have to be forcibly restrained to prevent them from harming themselves or others.

Even without actual intoxication, using crystal meth can produce catastrophic cardiovascular problems, including sudden cardiac death from ventricular fibrillation. 

Methamphetamine also produces inflammation of the blood vessels, which may lead to organ damage (such as stroke), and, if injected, to inflammation of the heart valves (endocarditis).

Amphetamine users have a fivefold increase in hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when blood vessels burst inside the brain. That's because this drug prompts dangerous blood pressure changes along with blood vessel spasms and inflammation that can lead to either or both of these outcomes.

Obviously, many of the cardiovascular effects of methamphetamine abuse are irreversible, even if abusers manage to eventually kick the habit. Blood vessel damage in the brain has been observed among former users even years after they stopped taking the drug. Since scientists cannot yet offer any way to reduce the damage, long-term risks for stroke for these people remain higher than normal.

Crystal Meth Intoxication

Crystal meth intoxication is a medical emergency, largely due to its cardiovascular effects. Doctors today need to be alert to the possibility of crystal meth intoxication whenever they encounter a patient who is hypertensive, tachycardic, sweating profusely, febrile, and severely agitated or psychotic. People who are in this condition from crystal meth are an immediate danger to themselves and others because sudden violent behavior is common.

Further, they are at high risk for sudden cardiovascular collapse.

Getting rapid control of overt or potential violent behavior is critical, as is relieving the excessive cardiovascular stress. While restraints may be necessary temporarily, they often provoke even more violent reactions. It is often necessary to give intravenous drugs such as benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medications to control agitation, and nitroglycerine or nitroprusside to control hypertension. It may even be necessary to use drugs that cause temporary paralysis, which also requires intubation. 

Once the acute intoxication subsides, withdrawal symptoms may persist for several weeks.

A Word From Verywell

Crystal meth is a common street drug whose popularity waxes and wanes over time. It is a highly addictive drug that often has dangerous effects on several organ systems, including the cardiovascular system.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Drug Abuse. DrugFacts: Methamphetamine.

  2. Courtney KE, Ray LA. Methamphetamine: an update on epidemiology, pharmacology, clinical phenomenology, and treatment literatureDrug Alcohol Depend. 2014;143:11–21. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.08.003

  3. Kevil CG, Goeders NE, Woolard MD, et al. Methamphetamine use and cardiovascular disease. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2019;39(9):1739-1746. doi:10.1161/ATVBAHA.119.312461

  4. Hawley LA, Auten JD, Matteucci MJ, et al. Cardiac complications of adult methamphetamine exposures. J Emerg Med. 2013;45:821. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2013.04.061

  5. Lappin JM, Darke S, Farrell M. Stroke and methamphetamine use in young adults: a review. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2017;88(12):1079-1091. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2017-316071

  6. Paratz ED, Cunningham NJ, Macisaac AI. The cardiac complications of methamphetamines. Heart Lung Circ. 2016;25(4):325-32. doi:10.1016/j.hlc.2015.10.019