See also the DrugSearch page on amphetamines.
What is Methamphetamine?
Meth, crystal meth, crank, yabba, ice
Methamphetamine is a strong form of amphetamine. It comes as powder, crystals or tablets and has a similar euphoric effect to cocaine but a much longer duration of action.
Methamphetamine may be taken in a number of ways depending on the formulation. In the crystal form the salt base has been removed meaning the drug can be ignited on foil and smoked (in a similar way to crack cocaine). This form of the drug is often referred to as crystal meth or ice. Methamphetamine powder is usually swallowed or snorted. Injecting is another way to take methamphetamine powder, in 2018, 43% of people starting treatment for methamphetamine in Great Britain reported injecting as their main way of taking the drug according to the United Kingdom drug situation 2019: Focal Point annual report.
Methamphetamine was first synthesised in Japan in the late 1800s from ephedrine, a drug commonly used to treat asthma.
Medically produced amphetamines (including methamphetamine) were used in Japan, Britain, Germany and the US during the Second World War to enable soldiers to stay awake and focussed.
From 1942, Adolf Hitler received daily injections of methamphetamine from his personal physician, Dr Theodor Morell.
The sale of methamphetamine products from retail pharmacists was banned in the UK in 1968. However, in the US the drug is available in pharmaceutical form for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
Methamphetamine was rescheduled from Class B to Class A of the Misuse of Drugs Act in 2006.
According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2021, methamphetamine is the most common of the amphetamine type stimulants. In the period 2015–2019, methamphetamine accounted for 72% of the total quantity of amphetamine type stimulants seized globally, followed by amphetamine (19%) and ecstasy (4%). In the period 2009-2019 the amount of methamphetamine seized increased almost tenfold.
Prevalence of methamphetamine use is low in the UK, statistics from the Home Office in their report Drugs Misuse: Findings from the 2018/19 Crime Survey for England and Wales show that 0% of adults had used methamphetamine in the last year.
Effects and risks
As with all amphetamines, methamphetamine makes users feel alert, energetic, confident and powerful. Being a stimulant, use of the drug also leads to an increased heart rate and blood pressure which raises the risk of heart problems, including heart attacks. Taking higher doses leads to greater risks.
The effects of methamphetamine can last a long time and be followed by a severe come-down. Injecting the drug or smoking its crystalline form leads to a very intense ‘high’ similar to that produced by crack cocaine but much longer lasting – 4-12 hours.
Common side effects include nausea, panic attacks, compulsive repetitive behaviour and jaw clenching.
Regular use of methamphetamine can lead to a strong psychological dependency, with increased tolerance to the effects of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can include depression, anxiety and an intense craving to reuse the drug. Lack of sleep and weight loss may also become problems.
Psychiatric problems have been associated with methamphetamine use, with symptoms resembling those associated with paranoid schizophrenia, such as paranoia, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Use of the drug is also associated with violent and aggressive behaviour and acquisitive crime.
Drug users who inject the drug are at risk of infection from HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B if they share needles and other injecting paraphernalia. Increased sexual arousal and loss of inhibition increase the likelihood of unsafe sexual practices.
Heavy and regular users of the drug may suffer tooth loss and decay, a condition known as ‘meth mouth’. There is some scientific debate as to whether this is a direct effect of methamphetamine, a result of the route of administration or other behavioural issues. However, dentists are observing increased incidence of decay and tooth erosion among patients who are methamphetamine users.
Most amphetamines are controlled as class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act however Methamphetamine is a class A drug. Possessing methamphetamine leads to a maximum sentence of 7 years and/or a fine.
Possession with intent to supply, supplying and production all have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and/or a fine.
Updated June 2022