Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, produces an energetic feeling of euphoria that is similar to a cocaine high, but the effects of meth last longer.
The rush from snorting cocaine usually lasts 15 minutes to a half hour, and a crack high lasts no more than five to 10 minutes. The intoxicating effects of meth, however, typically persist for eight to 24 hours.
Estimates of the precise length of a crystal meth high vary widely. Some researchers have found that the stimulant effects of the drug last approximately six to eight hours. A National Institute of Justice report states that they can last 12 to 14 hours or longer. Other sources report that the high can last up to 24 hours.
A person goes through several distinct stages of intoxication after consuming meth. The stages may vary depending upon the method of use, the dose taken and whether or not the individual has a meth addiction.
The rush, or “flash” as it’s sometimes called, is the intense euphoria a person feels within seconds of injecting or smoking meth. The rush comes from a sudden flood of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain.
During a meth rush, the heart rate quickens, pupils dilate, blood pressure soars and metabolism kicks up several notches. The feeling of a meth rush has been compared to having multiple orgasms.
This intense phase usually ends in five minutes, but it can last up to half an hour. A person won’t feel a flash when snorting meth or swallowing it.
After the rush passes, a person will shift into a less intense state of euphoria that could last from four to 14 hours. This stage, sometimes called “the shoulder,” is characterized by hyperactivity and rapid thinking.
Some people may exhibit argumentative, aggressive or obsessive-compulsive behavior while high. They may seem confused, and their speech might not make sense.
Bingeing describes repeatedly using a drug for days at a time to stay high. Engaging in a meth binge can cause severe insomnia for days on end. Some people also forgo eating. It is common for meth users to consume the drug in a pattern called binge and crash.
Bingeing eventually culminates in a dramatic crash, or comedown, when the person stops feeling a rush from the drug or runs out of meth. The crash is associated with extreme exhaustion and long periods of sleep.
Tweaking is considered the most dangerous stage of meth abuse. According to the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research, tweaking occurs when a meth user goes several days without sleep and starts to grow increasingly frustrated, paranoid and unstable.
People are unpredictable during a tweaking episode. Their eyes may dart around, and they may become violent. During this stage, they may lose touch with reality and develop meth psychosis.
Strong cravings for more meth are common in the tweaking phase, but the high from taking the drug starts to become less powerful. People who are tweaking have been known to go about 15 to 40 days without any sleep.
Some methods of use cause a quicker high. Smoking or shooting meth causes a nearly immediate high. That’s because the drug enters the brain more rapidly when it’s inhaled or injected directly into the bloodstream.
When meth is snorted up the nose or swallowed, however, it can take several minutes to feel the effects. Swallowing meth is the least efficient method of getting high because it must first pass through the digestive tract.
Onset of Crystal Meth Intoxication:
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
No matter how it’s used, methamphetamine is profoundly addictive. When people use crystal meth repeatedly, it changes their brain chemistry.
The drug activates the reward centers of the brain, causing strong cravings for meth. Over time, the brain becomes desensitized to the flood of dopamine triggered by meth use.
As a result, people require larger amounts of the drug to feel the same high they originally experienced. This is known as developing a tolerance.
Meth tolerance can occur within minutes, and the euphoria can vanish before levels of the drug in the blood have dropped.
While the stimulant can be only be detected in a person’s blood for approximately four to six hours, meth stays in a person’s body considerably longer.
The half-life of the drug is approximately 12 hours, meaning that about half of the dose is eliminated after 12 hours. About a quarter of the dose remains one day after last use.
Crystal meth can be detected in a person’s urine for up to three days, or even longer with heavy use of the drug. Traces of meth can be found in person’s hair for up to 90 days.
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