Printer Friendly

Methamphetamine: toxic. Addictive. Devastating. Get the facts! Also known as "meth" or "ice," this highly addictive and brain-altering drug is a threatening scourge on individuals, families, and communities.

Big Heads Up: Across the United States, methamphetamine is leaving widespread damage in its path.

Make no mistake: this is a highly toxic, addictive, and devastating substance that poses serious health risks both to individuals who use it and to those who never do. Families, neighbors, communities, innocent children, the environment--all are affected by methamphetamine and the highly toxic chemicals that are used to produce it.


Often referred to as "meth," methamphetamine can be a white powder that easily dissolves in water. Another form of the drug, in clear chunky crystals, is called "crystal meth" or "ice." The drug can also come in the form of small, brightly colored tablets known by the name "yaba." Methamphetamine abusers inject, snort, smoke, or swallow the drug.


Whether teens live in the city or in the country, they are increasingly likely to be faced with methamphetamine. Until recently, methamphetamine in the United States was concentrated in a few cities and towns, most of them in the West. But now, health and law-enforcement officials see methamphetamine spreading to rural areas, cities, and towns across the nation.


Few substances are as harmful as methamphetamine. From the ravages facing abusers whose bodies, brains, and actions become altered, to burns, explosions, and toxic spills resulting from the chemicals used to produce methamphetamine, this is one dangerous drug.

According to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methamphetamine is "a stimulant drug that can have devastating medical, psychiatric, and social consequences."

Partly because of the spread of methamphetamine across the country, NIDA has stepped up its research relating to the drug. Scientists are working to understand how the drug affects abusers and how best to treat people suffering from the disease of methamphetamine addiction.


Scientists know that methamphetamine can change the structure of a person's brain; it can change behavior; and it can even change feelings and emotions--effects that can last a long time. It can also cause people to do risky, disastrous things--things they'd never do if they weren't under the influence of the drug. There's even something called "meth mouth," which results from methamphetamine constricting blood vessels in certain areas of the mouth. The reduced blood flow over time can weaken the teeth and lead to tooth decay.

Methamphetamine abusers can experience a wide range of other potentially devastating effects for themselves--and others. These include violent behavior as well as anxiety, depression, confusion, insomnia, paranoia, auditory. hallucinations, and delusions.


Recently Dr. Paul Thompson, a NIDA-sponsored researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to look inside the brains of long-term methamphetamine abusers.

"The methamphetamine abusers Thompson studied experienced structural changes in the limbic regions of their brains--this is the area responsible for feelings, emotions, and cravings," explains Dr. Steve Grant, acting chief of NIDA's Clinical Neuroscience Branch, Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Development and Behavioral Treatments. The hippocampus, responsible for making new memories, also showed structural changes. Not surprisingly, those addicted to methamphetamine scored very, poorly on memory tests.


Methamphetamine's effects--and some of the brain changes they ultimately cause--stem from the fact that the drug's chemical structure is similar to dopamine. Dopamine is the natural chemical released in certain areas of the brain in response to pleasurable experiences--like laughing with friends or dancing with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Dopamine also helps the brain control movement, mood, and memory.

Methamphetamine tricks brain cells into pumping out very high, unnatural levels of dopamine. You won't be surprised to learn that these increases in dopamine make methamphetamine abusers feel great. But then comes a crash. This causes users to crave more of the drug--setting the stage for the chronic disease we call addiction.

Ironically, even though methamphetamine ups the amount of dopamine in the brain at first, it ultimately hinders the brain's ability to make and respond to dopamine.

Brain imaging studies conducted by Dr. Volkow show that long-term methamphetamine abusers have lower-than-normal numbers of dopamine receptors and dopamine transporters in the brain. Receptors and transporters are important parts of normal brain communication.

This lower number of dopamine transporters results in not being able to perform simple actions as well. In one study, participants with the fewest transporter molecules had a tough time recalling simple word lists and were slower in walking a straight line. "In fact, the lower the levels of the dopamine transporter, the worse the performance," Dr. Volkow says. They had developed problems with the striatum, a part of the brain associated with control of movement, attention, motivation, and reward.


Immune system cells are the blood cells that help your body resist infections. Animal and test tube studies show that methamphetamine may suppress killer T cells, a type of white blood cell that fights off germs. On top of that, a recent long-term study found that, all other things being equal, people who abuse methamphetamine are twice as likely as nonusers to contract HIV if exposed to it.


The answer is NO.

To start with, people under the influence of methamphetamine may lose their normal inhibitions and sense of good judgment. As a result, they might take dangerous risks.

In animal studies, even a single high dose of methamphetamine can damage nerve terminals in dopamine-containing regions of the brain. In humans, a big dose can raise your body temperature so high that your life can be in danger--it can lead to convulsions and coma. Also, says Dr. Volkow, a single dose of methamphetamine can cause "irreversible stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain."


All in all, for the sake of your brain cells, your immune cells, and all your other cells--as well as for the sake of your family, neighbors, children, and the environment--the smart choice is never to try methamphetamine. Not even once.

Heads Up: Methamphetamine Alters the Brain's Structure

Researchers have established that methamphetamine abuse causes changes in brain structure. The most effected areas are those that control memory, emotion, and reward.

From the image at right, we can see differences in the amount of change in a methamphetamine abuser's brain as compared with a nonuser's:


1 lb of methamphetamine = 5 lbs of toxic waste

Manufacturing mathamphetamine always produces toxic waste. Ingredients might include toluene, iodine, red phosphorus (used in road flares), sodium hydroxide, lithium/sodium metal, hydrochloric acid, anhydrous ammonia (a fertilizer), drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, pool acid, and antifreeze--many of which are severe eye, nose, and throat irritants or cause skin burns or breathing difficulty.

A "math lab" is an illegal site where the drug is manufactured. Math labs have been found in garages, kitchens, vehicles, hotel and motel rooms, storage lockers, campgrounds, abandoned dumps, restrooms, and mobile homes. Children who grow up in places where methamphetamine is manufactured are at risk for acid burns and respiratory problems from exposure to toxic chemicals.

One in five of these sites is discovered because of chemical explosions. Because of the possibility of explosions and direct contact with toxic fumes and hazardous chemicals, law-enforcement officers who raid clandestine drug labs are required to take special training to handle hazardous materials (HAZMAT). Firefighters who respond to fires at these sites also risk serious injury from toxic fumes and gases.

Toxic contamination remains behind from the manufacturing process on surfaces in the meth lab itself, including furniture, curtains, bedspreads, flooring, air vents, eating surfaces, and walls. Cleaning up a meth lab site requires hazardous waste protection and costs an average of $3,000--but can cost more than $100,000. In 2004 alone, there were more than 10,000 meth lab cleanups at a cost of $18.6 million.

Leftover chemicals and by-product sludge from methamphetamine manufacture have been found along highways, in parks and forests, in the ground and groundwater, and in sewer systems. These solvents and other toxic by-products pose long-term hazards to communities because they can persist in soil and groundwater for years. Of particular concern are labs in agricultural areas, because the hazardous wastes are often dumped where crops are grown and in the water sources used to nourish those crops.

RELATED ARTICLE: Wake-Up Call: Loss of Motor Skills and Memory

Researchers have found that long-term methamphetamine abuse is associated with a reduction in dopamine transporters, and that this damage appears to be linked to impaired motor skills and memory. The brain image on the left above is from a person who has never used methamphetamine. The brain on the right is from a methamphetamine abuser who abstained for 1 month. Yellow and red areas indicate the distribution of dopamine transporters (DATs), with red indicating higher distribution. Dopamine is released naturally in the brain in response to pleasure; it helps the brain control movement, mood, and memory. There is a slight recovery of DATs after 1 month of abstinence (see the light resurgence in red), and the researchers saw much more recovery after 14 months--but motor skills and memory had not returned to normal.

Dear Teacher:

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Scholastic Inc. are dedicated to bringing students clear, science-based information about drugs and addiction. We are passionate about this mission because research has shown that when young people are armed with facts, they are more likely to make smart choices about their health and their futures.

For those reasons, we are launching the fourth edition of Heads Up: Real News About Drugs and Your Body. Over the course of this school year, we will bring you a series of articles about drugs of abuse that NIDA researchers have determined to be of greatest risk to the teen community.

In this first installment of the series, we cover the scourge of methamphetamine, a devastating, addictive stimulant that can be snorted, swallowed, injected, or smoked, and which is increasingly available across the United States. We want to make sure that students understand the devastating effects of methamphetamine and how it poses serious health risks not only to individuals who use it but also to others who never do. We want them to also know the risks from the highly toxic chemicals that are used to make methamphetamine. Armed with these facts, they can make smart choices if ever faced with this drug.

Together with our partners, including classroom teachers like you, we at NIDA are working toward a day when young people everywhere understand the risks of drugs and the damage they can cause. Thank you for helping us come closer to that time, a time when every student in the U.S. will know that trying drugs is always the wrong choice.

Sincerely, Nora D. Volkow, M.D. Director of NIDA

Lesson Plans for Student Activities

PREPARATION: Before beginning the lessons, make these photocopies: Two copies for each student of Activity 1 Reproducible to be used as a pre-text and post-text quiz, and one copy for each student of Activity 2 Reproducible.

Lesson 1 Heads Up: What Do You Know About the Dangers of Methamphetamine?


To give students science-based facts about methamphetamine; to educate students about the ways in which methamphetamine can damage the brain and immune system; to help students understand that trying methamphetamine even once can be hazardous; and to assess students' knowledge of the topics before and after reading the article.


Life Science; Science in Personal and Social Perspective

LESSON STRATEGY Introducing the Topic

* Before the lesson begins, hold a class discussion based on these questions: What is methamphetamine? What do you know about it and how it affects the body and brain? What is the source of your information? How can you determine if your source is reliable?

* Tell students that they are going to see how much they know about methamphetamine and what the latest research is teaching us about it. Distribute copies of Activity 1 Reproducible. Tell students to write their names on the paper and label it No. 1. Then have them answer the questions. Collect and grade the papers.


* Have students read the article "Methamphetamine: Toxic. Addictive. Devastating. Get the Facts!" Next, hold a discussion based on these questions: Why is it especially important today that teens understand the risks of using methamphetamine? What are the risks to users? To nonusers? What happens in the brain when a person takes methamphetamine? What does the article mean when it says that methamphetamine "tricks" the brain into releasing high and unnatural levels of dopamine? What are the dangers of the chemicals used to illegally make methamphetamine?

* Next, tell students it's time to see how much they've increased their knowledge. Give them a second copy of Activity I Reproducible. Tell them to write their names on the paper and label it No. 2. When students have finished, collect the papers, score them, and compare the results before and after the lesson.


* Conclude the lesson by asking students whether they think young people and adults in their community understand the risks of methamphetamine. Have students brainstorm ways of getting these messages across. If possible, put some of the best suggestions into action.


1. b; 2. d; 3. c; 4. a; 5. d; 6. b; 7. a; 8. a; 9. d; 10. a.

Lesson 2 Heads Up: What Methamphetamine Does to Your Brain


Students use scientific data to draw conclusions about the effects of methamphetamine on brain chemistry, memory, and motor skills.


Science as Inquiry; Science in Personal and Social Perspective


Introducing the Topic

* Tell students that new advances in imaging are allowing scientists to study the living brain to understand how drugs affect its structure and chemistry. Ask students how they think this capability has changed research, and how it can work with other types of inquiry to increase our understanding of drugs and the harm they can cause.

* Explain to students that they are going to read about an experiment in which researchers used positron emission tomography (PET), a noninvasive imaging technique, to compare dopamine transporter (DAT) levels in the brains of methamphetamine abusers with those in non-drug users. (Methamphetamine produces pleasure by releasing extra dopamine in the brain.) The study subjects were also given memory and motor skill tests, because the researchers wanted to see if there was a relationship between DAT levels and performance on these tests.

* Ask students why they think it's important to learn about how particular drugs affect the brain. How is this information useful to scientists who study addiction? To teenagers?


* Hand out Activity 2 Reproducible. Have students read the sheet and answer the questions at the end.

* Wrap up the lesson by discussing the following questions: Could spreading the news about how dramatically methamphetarnine affects brain structure, memory skills, and motor skills help cut down the number of new users? Why or why not? What kinds of follow-up experiments would you conduct if you were on the research team? How could you set up an experiment to see whether the brain changes you detected are permanent?


1. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a key role in motor activity, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. DATs move dopamine around in the brain. 2. They knew animals given high doses of methamphetamine had lowered DAT levels and wanted to see if the doses of methamphetamine abused by humans also resulted in lowered DAT levels; they suspected the loss of DATs might affect motor skills and memory because of the location in the brain where DAT levels were most reduced. 3. By using PET scans. 4. DAT reductions probably result in decreases in motor and memory skills; methamphetamine abuse can result in lower DAT levels. 5. Athlete: using the drug may reduce chances of success by impairing motor skills. Lawyer: using the drug may reduce chances of success by impairing memory skills.

Heads Up: Methamphetamine--A Quiz

Test your knowledge of the drug methamphetamine by answering the questions below.

1. Methamphetamine is a

a. hallucinogen.

b. stimulant.

c. narcotic.

d. painkiller.

2. Which of the following does methamphetamine affect?

a. the brain

b. the body's immune system

c. the environment

d. all of the above

3. Dopamine is a brain chemical most important in regulating feelings of

a. anger.

b. jealousy.

c. pleasure.

d. deja vu.

4. At first, methamphetamine causes

a. an unnaturally high level of dopamine in the brain.

b. a shortage of dopamine in the brain.

c. the destruction of all dopamine in the brain.

d. the destruction of some dopamine in the brain.

5. Methamphetamine can be responsible for

a. violent behavior.

b. burns.

c. explosions.

d. all of the above.

6. When methamphetamine abusers try to quit, they often experience

a. euphoria.

b. a lack of pleasure.

c. extreme violent impulses.

d. amnesia.

7. Methamphetamine can cause the body to heat up excessively, which can lead to

a. convulsions.

b. lung cancer.

c. heart attack.

d. brain tumor.

8. Methamphetamine causes alterations in the areas of the brain responsible for

a. memory and motor skills.

b. breathing.

c. sleep regulation.

d. all of the above.

9. Which of the following technologies did scientists use to determine that methamphetamine abuse results in brain alterations?

a. X rays

b. CAT scan (Computerized Axial Tomography)

c. centrifuge

d. Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI)

10. Methamphetamine addiction is a disease that

a. can be treated with behavioral therapy.

b. is incurable.

c. can be easily cured with medication.

d. is contagious.

Heads Up: What Methamphetamine Does to Your Brain

With methamphetamine blazing a destructive path across the country, it has become urgent for young people to understand how the drug affects the brain. The NIDA-sponsored experiment described below does exactly that. The results are dramatic.

The Experiment: Dopamine Transporters, Methamphetamine, and Memory and Motor Problems

Background In 2000, when this experiment was conducted, scientists knew that animals given high doses of methamphetamine wound up with fewer dopamine nerve transporters, or terminals, in their brains. Dopamine is a brain chemical important for pleasure, motivation, and motor activity. Dopamine transporters, or DATs, are located on the dopamine terminal and are responsible for recycling dopamine back into the neuron that released it. This is a necessary step for proper communication between nerve cells.

Scientists can attach a radioactive compound to DATs in humans. Then, using imaging techniques, they can measure changes in the number of dopamine transporters to find out whether methamphetamine abusers have fewer dopamine transporters (and presumably fewer dopamine terminals) than nonusers.

This experiment was designed to determine not only whether methamphetamine abuse reduced DATs, but also whether changes in DATs could be linked to changes in abusers' behavior and performance. Problems with memory and motor skills have been associated with methamphetamine abuse, and these are both activities that involve dopamine.

Description Scientists attached radioactively labeled compounds to the DATs in the brains of 15 long-term methamphetamine abusers and 18 non-drug users. Then their brains were scanned using PET (positron emission tomography), which enabled scientists to see and measure DATs. The participants were then given four tests to assess their motor and memory abilities:

* Timed Gait Test: Walking a straight line as quickly as possible.

* Grooved Pegboard Test: Putting pegs into small, angled holes as quickly as possible.

* Interference Recall Test: Learning and recalling words after a distraction.

* Delayed Recall Test: Learning and recalling words after a delay.

Results When the experiment was complete, the researchers analyzed the results. They compared the test scores and DAT levels of methamphetamine abusers with those of the non-drug users. This is what they found:

DAT Levels The methamphetamine abusers, who had abstained from drug abuse for at least 2 weeks, all had fewer DATs than the non-drug users. The difference was most dramatic in the striatum, a part of the brain associated with motivation, attention, and control of movement, and was evident even in a former methamphetamine abuser who had abstained for 11 months.

Test Performance The researchers found that lower DAT levels corresponded to worse performance on all four motor and memory tests described above. The subjects with the lowest DAT levels performed worst on the tests.

You're the scientist Now imagine that you're a scientist analyzing the data from this experiment, and answer these questions. Write your answers on the back of this page.


1. What is dopamine? What does a dopamine transporter (DAT) do?

2. Why were researchers interested in DAT levels in methamphetamine abusers? Why did they suspect a link between DAT levels and motor and memory skills?

3. How can you measure DAT levels in a human brain?


4. What conclusion can you draw from the fact that the lower a methamphetamine abuser's DAT level, the lower his/her performance on the motor and memory tests? What does this tell you about how methamphetamine affects the brain?

5. Based on the experiment results, how would you predict methamphetamine abuse might affect the future career success of a teen who wanted to be a professional athlete? What about a teen who wanted to be a trial lawyer?
COPYRIGHT 2005 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 3, 2005
Previous Article:Are you a good citizen? What are your rights and responsibilities as a citizen of the United States?
Next Article:Political cartoon.

Related Articles
New Highs, New Risks.
The brain link: researchers have discovered an amazing connection between how the brain is involved in obesity and drug addiction.
Ice, ice baby: infant speed freaks?
Methamphetamine: toxic. Additive. Devastating. Get the facts! Also known as "meth" or "ice," this highly addictive and brain-altering drug is a...
Poison vapors: the truth about inhalants: inhalants can cause harm to the whole body, including long-lasting damage to the brain, physical...
Poison vapors: the truth about inhalants: inhalants can cause harm to the whole body, including long-lasting damage to the brain, physical...
Methamphetamine: Toxic. Addictive. Devastating. Get the facts!
Drug abuse risks: get the facts: take the quiz below, then check the answers to find out facts that can keep you in the know about drug abuse and the...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters