Injecting, or “slamming,” methamphetamine creates a more intense and immediate high than other methods of using the drug. Within 10 to 30 seconds of shooting meth into a vein, a person experiences a euphoric rush that can last several minutes.
Following the initial rush, adrenaline continues to surge through the body, revving up the central nervous system and creating an energetic high that lasts about six to eight hours.
Dr. Edward Bednarczyk, director of the Center for Health Outcomes, Pharmacoinformatics and Epidemiology, told DrugRehab.com the effects of smoking meth are similar to the effects of shooting or snorting the drug.
“The important thing that’s going to vary is the speed at which the effects happen,” Bednarczyk said. “So if you’re going to inject this, the effect that you’re going to feel and the intensity of that effect is going to be way higher than if you take it orally.”
Injecting meth accelerates the adverse health effects of the drug and increases the chances of developing a meth addiction. IV meth use causes a variety of other health complications, including skin and soft tissue infections, scarred and damaged veins, and heart infections.
Most meth users don’t start out injecting the drug. Snorting and smoking crystal meth are far more common methods of use. But people who use meth can quickly progress to injecting the drug, which is associated with an increased risk for addiction.
According to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, the faster a drug reaches the brain, the more addictive it is. Injecting a drug into a vein is the second fastest route to the brain, after smoking it.
A 2018 article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that 85 percent of the meth users surveyed in the study started injecting the drug approximately one year after their first time using it. People who used powder cocaine, by comparison, didn’t progress to shooting the drug for roughly three years.
With repeated use, meth effectively rewires the brain’s reward circuits, prompting the person to crave and seek out meth just as they would seek food, water, sex and other necessities of life.
Intravenous drug users sometimes become fixated on needles and the rituals of injection. These fixations can reinforce an existing addiction and complicate treatment. Some studies have shown that up to 25 percent of IV heroin users have a needle fixation, but it’s unclear how common it is among meth users.
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Shooting meth can cause a number of health complications, including serious infections, permanent damage to veins and an increased risk of overdose.
The stimulant effects of methamphetamine cause veins to shrink or contract, making it harder to find and hit a vein after repeated injections.
The caustic chemicals in the drug can also burn and inflame the delicate blood vessels. Repeatedly puncturing the same spots causes scarring, also known as track marks. Over time, the veins may collapse.
Infections are a common complication of injecting meth and other drugs. Intravenous drug use has been associated with outbreaks of MRSA, a skin infection caused by staph bacteria. The highly contagious bacteria are resistant to several antibiotics and can be difficult to treat.
The chemicals and techniques used to produce the drug can change what meth looks like . A 2011 study in the Journal of Medical Microbiology noted that meth users who injected colored meth were more likely to develop abscesses of the skin than people who injected clear or colorless meth.
An abscess is a buildup of pus or fluid under the skin caused by infection. The authors of the study speculated that the higher rates of abscesses among people who injected colored meth could be linked to poor drug purity.
Injecting meth can also cause cellulitis, an infection that has spread to the deeper layers of the soft tissue under the skin. The infected area will appear swollen, pink or red and will feel hot and tender to the touch. Cellulitis can become life-threatening if not promptly treated with antibiotics.
While skin infections in IV drug users are often minor, they can spread to the blood, bones and heart. Endocarditis, a potentially life-threatening infection of the lining of the heart and heart valves, is a complication of IV drug use.
Because meth users commonly share needles and other injection equipment, they have a higher risk of contracting contagious and sometimes deadly viruses such as HIV and hepatitis.
People who inject meth can spread viruses by:
A study involving a 2003 hepatitis B outbreak among methamphetamine injectors in a rural county in Wyoming found that needle sharing was not the cause of the viral outbreak. It appears to have been spread when people shared cotton filters and water used to prepare the drug and rinse syringes.
Smoking and snorting meth are also associated with a high risk of developing HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases. The risk for developing these diseases is elevated because meth use affects judgment and often leads to risky sexual behaviors.
The risk of experiencing a meth overdose is highest when meth is injected directly into the bloodstream.
A toxic dose of meth can cause an irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke and seizures. Injecting the drug can also raise the temperature of a person’s brain and body to dangerously high levels.
Even if it doesn’t kill you, a meth overdose can cause bizarre and frightening psychotic behavior. During meth psychosis, a person may hallucinate and lose complete touch with reality. Violent and self-destructive behavior is common.
Intravenous meth use is hard to hide. People who inject the drug will eventually develop scars on frequently used injection sites.
The region of the arm on the inside of the elbow is a common injection site, but some individuals inject meth into veins in the hands, feet, groin or neck.
Other signs of IV meth use may include:
Meth users will show other signs of drug abuse, including weight loss, poor hygiene and behavioral changes. People who use meth often develop meth sores and dental problems commonly known as meth mouth.
If someone you care about is injecting meth, he or she may be addicted. The most effective way to help people overcome meth addiction is to convince them to seek professional treatment at a rehab facility.
Meth addiction treatment uses medically assisted detox, therapy sessions and support group meetings to help people quit meth. These treatment approaches also teach people effective strategies to manage cravings and avoid relapse.
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