How long does Meth stay in your system?

Methamphetamine (meth) is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug. In 2020, an estimated 2.6 million people reported using meth. An estimated 1.5 million people have a meth use disorder. And an estimated 23,837 people died from an overdose that involved meth. The DEA classified meth as a Schedule II Stimulant, which means it is only legally available through a non-refillable prescription. The only legal meth product that exists is called Desoxyn, a medication prescribed to help with obesity weight loss or treating symptoms of ADHD. Like many other powerful stimulant drugs, meth can cause a whole host of negative symptoms that can have lasting effects on the body and brain.

Meth is a stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. It is the most similar in chemical makeup to amphetamines, which are traditionally used to treat ADHD and some sleep disorders. Meth works by increasing the amount of natural chemical dopamine in the brain. The chemical dopamine is involved in many aspects of body functions including movement, motivation and reinforcement and rewarding behaviors in the brain. The rapid release of dopamine helps to reinforce drug-seeking behaviors in order to feel and achieve a “high.”

Other names or street terms for meth include speed, chalk, ice, crystal and crank.

A red lighter, syringe and spoon filled with crystal meth lays on a black surface. How long does meth stay in your system?

Signs of Meth Use

  • Hyperactivity
  • Twitching
  • Paranoia
  • Dilated pupils
  • Noticeable and sudden weight loss
  • Skin sores
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Reduced appetite
  • Agitation
  • Burns on lips or fingers
  • Rotting teeth
  • Erratic sleeping patterns
  • Outbursts and mood swings
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Psychosis

When meth is taken, it increases brain activity resulting in talkativeness, a decreased appetite and a sense of intense pleasure and euphoria. Meth can be taken in many forms including smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injecting. When a person smokes or injects meth, it can more quickly enter into the bloodstream and brain causing an immediate rush of euphoria.

How long does Meth stay in your system?

Meth is often considered to be more dangerous than other substances due to a larger percentage of the drug that can remain in the body even after the effects have worn off. The drug can also be present in the brain for much longer. This often results in users unknowingly taking more and more of the substances in order to get that “high” feeling and double and triple dosing on meth because it has not yet left the body completely.

Because meth can take effect very quickly, the “high” and pleasure feels can also begin to fade just as quickly. This causes people to take multiple doses in a “binge and crash” pattern of drug use. “Binge and crash” describes a period of time lasting anywhere from 3 to 15 days at the end of a drug binge. This occurs when a person can no longer achieve that desired feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria. The person will begin to develop symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. Afterward, in the crash phase, a person may go through long periods of sleep, intense drug cravings and feelings of depression. This is also known as “tweaking.”

The effects of meth can last anywhere from 8-24 hours. In those who struggle with meth use disorder, it can last up to 4 days in the body with a half-life of about 10 hours. This means on average, it can take the body 10 hours to metabolize and eliminate at least half of the meth dose from the bloodstream that was initially ingested. In some extreme cases, some drug tests are able to detect meth in the body 3 months after use.

Colorful graph with meth statistics such as meth ingredients, side effects, long term damage and how long meth can stay in your system.

What does Meth look like? What does Meth smell like?

So what does meth look like? Meth can come in many different forms. Regular meth is often a white powder, which can also be made into pills. Crystal meth resembles glass-like fragments that are shiny and give off a bluish-white color. These fragments look like rocks of various shapes and sizes. What does meth smell like? Generally, meth is odorless. But the smell can depend on the purity of the drug. Some meth can smell like chemicals such as cleaning products. Other times the chemical smell can have a sweet or bitter odor.

Side Effects and Symptoms of Meth Use

  • Increased energy
  • Decreased appetite and malnutrition
  • Faster breathing
  • Damage to the cardiovascular system
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • High risk for blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS
  • Increased risk for developing Parkinson’s Disease – a disorder of the nerves that affect body movement
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Severe dental issues
  • Intense itchy
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in brain structure and function
  • Confusion and memory impairment
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Violent behavior
  • Stroke, heart attack and multiple organ failure

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Differences and Similarities between Meth and Cocaine

Meth and cocaine are both central nervous system stimulant drugs. But cocaine is also an anesthetic drug. They also produce similar effects on the brain and body. Meth is a synthetically made drug while cocaine is a plant-derived drug. Meth tends to stay in the brain for a longer period of time and can produce prolonged stimulant effects on the body. With meth use, 50% of the drug has been removed from the body within a period of 12 hours. With cocaine, 50% of the drug is removed from the body within 1 hour.

The ways in which both drugs work in the body are quite similar. Meth increases dopamine release and blocks the dopamine re-uptake in the brain. Cocaine simply blocks dopamine re-uptake in the brain. Ultimately both meth and cocaine are highly addictive substances that when misused can cause dependence and the development of a substance use disorder.

How to Recognize a Meth House

Meth is a man-made synthetic drug often created with the ingredients pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. These ingredients are commonly found in over-the-counter cold and cough medicines. “Cooking” or creating meth can be very dangerous because the fumes from the chemicals are extremely toxic and can even lead to explosions and fires.

  • There are unusual and powerful odors similar to ammonia or other chemicals, coming from the property. Some have even described smells similar to cat urine or rotten eggs.
  • The windows of the house are covered or blacked out in order to prevent people from seeing inside.
  • There are strange forms of ventilation. Unusual ventilation practices are often done to rid the house of toxic fumes produced by the meth-making process. Sometimes windows will be open on cold rainy days or at times when it seems socially inappropriate. The houses will also have an unusual amount of air fans and blowers.
  • Elaborate security systems such as signs outside saying keep out and beware of dogs are also signs of a meth house. There may even be video cameras set up.
  • Signs of dead vegetation throughout the surrounding of the home indicate the dumping of toxic waste and substances onto the yard. Burn pits and dead spots of grass are a dead giveaway for chemical dumping.
  • Excessive or unusual trash on the property can be a sign of meth-making. Meth makers produce large amounts of trash which can include anything from packaging from cold tablets, lithium batteries, used coffee filters, empty containers, plastic soda bottles, rubber hoses, duct tape and gloves.
  • Unusual behavior of the occupants such as paranoia, staying inside most of the time, smoking outside the house, and frequent visitors that are not residents can be a telling sign of a meth house.

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The psychotic symptoms of meth can last for months or even up to years after a person has quit using the substance. Meth is dangerous because it destroys the brain’s pleasure center. This makes it much more difficult for the brain to naturally achieve any sort of feeling of pleasure without the assistance of the drug. When this occurs, tolerance is built up, cravings are increased and addiction is developed. Professional behavioral health care providers such as Hotel California by the Sea, offer substance use disorder programs to help clients overcome their addiction.

The meth use disorder treatment program specializes in treating people who struggle with this highly dangerous substance. Programs including detox, residential, PHP and IOP provide support, education and evidence-based treatments to all clients. Treatments such as CBT, group therapy and EMDR therapy provide ample opportunities for clients to better understand the root causes of their addiction. In treatment, clients will be able to receive intensive one on one counseling as well as participate in group therapy sessions. Hotel California by the Sea provides the tools and resources for a successful recovery.