Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug that can cause serious health consequences. Long-term meth use can cause memory loss, aggression, drug-induced episodes, and severe dental problems.

In the United States, the law classifies meth as a Schedule II drug, and about 2.6 million people reported using it in 2019. Meth has long lasting effects, and some tests can detect it for up to 3 months following use.

This article explores meth misuse and how long the drug can remain in the body.

a blurry green alarm clock representing how long meth stays in the systemShare on Pinterest
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Meth is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Other names for meth include speed, chalk, ice, crystal, and crank.

It is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that can cause serious short-and long-term health complications, including overdose. In addition, since it is so powerful, even small amounts of meth can quickly result in physical dependence and addiction.

Manufacturers originally developed methamphetamine from amphetamine and used it in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Today, only one legal meth product exists, called Desoxyn. Doctors may prescribe it to help with weight loss or treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in some limited circumstances.

People now make or “cook” meth in crude laboratories using various over-the-counter drugs and highly corrosive chemicals. The most common method uses pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, which are ingredients in many cold remedies. Cooking meth is highly dangerous because the fumes from the chemicals used are extremely toxic. They can lead to explosions and fires.

The resulting product takes the form of a white, odorless powder. Crystal meth resembles small shards of glass or shiny blue-white rocks.

Learn more about methamphetamine here.

Meth has long lasting effects, and it may take up to 4 days to leave the body. Its half-life is around 10 hours. This means it takes the body about 10 hours to metabolize and eliminate half of the ingested amount from the bloodstream.

Meth metabolites may appear in drug tests for days following use. For example, a person can receive a positive urine test for up to 4 days after ingesting meth. Likewise, a hair test can indicate meth use up to 3 months later.

After a person ingests or smokes meth, it enters the bloodstream and quickly travels to the brain, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Methamphetamine is water-soluble and easily passes through cell membranes. This allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier rapidly and enter the brain.

The body metabolizes and eliminates methamphetamine in the liver and kidneys. In the liver, an enzyme called cytochrome P450 2D6 breaks it down into two primary metabolites: para-hydroxymethamphetamine (pOH-MA) and amphetamine (AMP). The kidneys then filter these metabolites out of the blood and expel them in the urine.

Meth is extremely addictive, and doctors associate it with severe health risks. These risks increase with the frequency and duration of meth use. Some of the short-term effects of smoking or injecting meth include:

  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • hyperthermia or elevated body temperature
  • dilated pupils
  • increased wakefulness, energy, and alertness
  • decreased appetite and fatigue

Long-term effects of meth use can lead to anxiety, paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. Other long-term effects of smoking or injecting meth include:

  • severe dental problems
  • significant weight loss
  • skin sores
  • sleep disorders
  • cognitive deficits, including memory loss
  • addiction and tolerance

Meth use can also lead to psychotic symptoms, such as:

  • visual and auditory hallucinations
  • delusions, such as the belief that insects are crawling under the skin
  • paranoia and feelings of persecution

Meth use is also associated with an increased risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C through the sharing of injecting equipment.

Meth can have devastating effects on the human body, especially when used frequently and for long periods. Although some of these effects may reverse by stopping or reducing meth use, others are permanent.

If a person is using meth, there are many treatment options available. Treatment for meth addiction often includes behavioral therapies to help people identify the factors contributing to their meth use and develop strategies to cope with them. It may also include medication to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

People can turn to their doctor for advice and recommendations. They can also use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to find local help and treatment.

Meth addiction is a serious problem with potentially long lasting consequences. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. With proper support, individuals can recover from meth addiction.

Help is available

Seeking help for addiction may feel daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support.

If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:

Was this helpful?

Methamphetamine is a powerful, addictive, illegal drug that affects the central nervous system.

It stays in the system for days or even months following use. For example, urine tests can detect meth for up to 4 days, and hair tests can detect it for 3 months or more following use.

Short-term effects include increased heart rate and body temperature. Long-term, meth can result in memory loss, weight loss, and severe dental problems.

Meth addiction is a serious problem with potentially severe consequences. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. With proper support, individuals can recover from meth addiction.