From meth to crystal meth to crank to Tina, there are a number of common terms used to refer to the stimulant drug methamphetamine1. This addictive stimulant drug impacts the central nervous system, producing euphoric sensations and increasing energy in those who take it. Typically, meth comes in a white powder with no smell and a bitter taste. However, meth can also be found in a crystallized form or as a pill.
No matter what you call it or how you take it, one thing is certain: methamphetamine is dangerous, and meth addictions are serious. When taking meth, a variety of side effects can ensue, including meth-induced psychosis. Meth psychosis can consist of hallucinations, delusions, and other mind-altering symptoms.
In this article, we’ll explain what happens after taking meth and provide guidance on the treatment options and programs available from a center like Zinnia Health. If you want to skip straight to treatment options, visit our treatment page.
How Does Meth Impact the Brain?
The chemical makeup of methamphetamine is N-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine2. One thing that makes meth so dangerous is that it’s often manufactured in illegal home-based labs. It can also be made in other countries and imported into the United States illegally.
Street methamphetamine poses a higher risk than prescription methamphetamine for these reasons, as the varying manufacturing practices mean that the purity and potency can vary widely.
In any case, meth is considered a powerful stimulant3, and it has a direct impact on the central nervous system. The primary impact of meth is a massive increase in dopamine and norepinephrine, which are types of neurotransmitters. Meth is also believed to interact with serotonin, another neurotransmitter. By increasing the amount of these neurotransmitters in the brain, meth induces a feeling of euphoria.
The interaction with neurotransmitters also causes meth to induce some short-lived psychoactive effects. This is most often the case when a person snorts or smokes meth, as that causes the drug to be delivered to the central nervous system very quickly and in higher potency.
The sudden rush of misusing meth, along with its short-lived effects, leads many people to take more and more of the drug to prolong its effects. Repeated use of meth leads to continued but decreasing results, which in turn leads a person to crave more of the drug.
In the long term, using meth can lead to the onset of stimulant-induced psychosis. This is a disorder that can occur with the misuse of any stimulant, but meth is a common cause.
This disorder is characterized by:
- Visual hallucinations
- Paranoid delusions
- A strong sense of panic or dread
- Negative emotions
Long-term use is also associated with physical side effects, including damage to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Meth can also impact cognitive function.
Can Meth Cause Hallucinations?
Hallucinations are an experience where a person senses stimuli that aren’t there. Most often, people think of visual delusions when they imagine a hallucination, but hallucinations can involve any of the senses.
Methamphetamine abuse is known to lead to meth psychosis, but the intensity of the psychosis will vary depending on many factors. This psychosis is characterized by a mental state where a person loses contact with reality.
Meth hallucinations can include:
- Visual hallucinations, which means a person will see things that are not there. The hallucinations can involve objects, people, animals, or any combination thereof.
- Auditory hallucinations lead a person to believe they hear things that are not there. Hearing voices that don’t exist is a common example, but it can also be music or any other sound.
- Olfactory hallucinations cause a person to smell something that isn’t actually present in their environment. The smell can be anything—food, cologne, garbage, or even a scent they cannot place.
- Tactile hallucinations involve feelings caused by nonexistent stimuli. The thought that they are being touched or that bugs are crawling on them is common in meth users.
- Gustatory hallucinations mean a person is tasting something that isn’t present in their mouth. The sensation can also go beyond taste and combine with a tactile hallucination, where they can “feel” the food or item in their mouth.
Most often, meth users experience some form of visual hallucination, but tactile hallucinations (specifically, “meth bugs”) are also common. A person who is experiencing a co-occurring disorder affecting their psychological health, such as schizophrenia, is more likely to experience an auditory hallucination.
Regardless, the psychosis that meth induces is still psychosis, even if it’s not related to an underlying mental health disorder. This means that the signs, symptoms, and proper response to meth-induced hallucinations and psychosis are similar to those of the hallucinations induced by schizophrenia and other mental health disorders.
When a person is experiencing meth psychosis, they have lost all contact with reality. This means they are likely to behave irrationally and unpredictably. Unfortunately, some sources will tell a person to simply “prepare ahead” so they have a plan if they experience a hallucination.
This advice is not at all effective because, by nature, a person who is experiencing a hallucination will be in a state of psychosis and disconnected from reality, making them incapable of recalling, creating, or acting on rational thoughts.
Not only can meth induce hallucinations, but another part of meth-induced psychosis is delusions. Delusions are defined as fixed, rigid beliefs that a person believes are real but aren’t supported by fact.
Meth delusions can vary greatly, but paranoid delusions are at the top of the list. Paranoid delusions occur when a person believes that some entity, person, or organization is trying to harm them somehow.
Another common meth delusion is a grandiose delusion, which causes a person to believe that they themselves are of extreme importance. For instance, a person may believe they are royalty or that they hold some exquisite power over the world around them.
Meanwhile, erotomaniac delusions can convince an individual that someone is in love with them when they are not. That person may be a stranger, a celebrity, or someone their mind has created.
Meth use can result in countless other types of delusions, but most meth users experience delusions that cause suspicions or paranoia.
For some users, delusions mix together to form a complicated system of delusions filled with interconnected false beliefs that seem to construct an entirely new reality.
Understanding Meth Psychosis
The onset of hallucinations and/or delusions is a major part of meth-induced psychosis. At first, meth psychosis may come and go, and the person may maintain some contact with the reality around them, allowing them to apply some judgment to the hallucinations they’re experiencing and dismiss some of them rationally. However, a full psychotic break is likely with time.
Once a full psychotic break occurs, the individual’s situation will only get worse. Meth will continue to degrade decision-making abilities and rational thought to the point that aggression, panic, and confusion become their new normal.
It’s tough to nail down reliable numbers on how meth affects users due to the illicit nature of the drug, but some studies suspect that psychosis occurs in as many as 46% of methamphetamine users4.
The psychotic effects of meth can range from mild hallucinations and/or delusions to severe cases where a person appears to be living in their own world. Severe psychosis is most likely in people who routinely abuse meth.
No method can predict who will develop psychosis as a result of meth use, but some factors put a person at higher risk of developing meth-induced psychosis.
The most common risk factors include:
- Prior diagnosis with a mental health disorder, like schizophrenia
- Mixing meth with other substances, such as alcohol, cannabis, or other stimulants
- Being a chronic user of meth or using it in very large quantities
Aside from impacting a person’s worldview, perhaps what’s most dangerous about meth psychosis is that it impacts how they interact with the people around them and even how they interact with themselves.
For instance, meth psychosis is known to cause aggression, violence, and self-harm. Not only can these things lead to injury, but they can even lead to arrest or death.
The irrational actions of a person experiencing meth psychosis are complicated and difficult to comprehend for anyone looking on as an observer. For loved ones, they can be especially hard to cope with.
With that said, knowing how to safely approach a person who is experiencing meth psychosis is essential for getting your loved one the help they desperately need.
Trained medical professionals are the only ones equipped with the right knowledge and tools to help a person safely work through a meth addiction. At Zinnia Health, we specialize in personalized addiction treatment. Explore our treatment programs to learn more.
How to Help Someone with Meth Psychosis
From the outside looking in, helping a person who is experiencing meth-induced psychosis is not easy. A person will be most responsive to help during the early stages before a full psychotic break occurs, but it’s still important to proceed with caution.
The best way to approach a person who is suffering from hallucinations or psychosis is as follows.
- Always remain calm. Approach a person who is experiencing psychosis with composure. Speak slowly and speak clearly, using simple words and short sentences. Repeat yourself gently if they seem not to understand.
- If the person is actively consuming meth, try to get them to stop by distracting or redirecting them. Avoid physically taking anything from them, as this could agitate them or scare them into irrational self-defense.
- Reduce any stimulation in the environment around the person by turning down any noises, removing distractions, getting away from crowds, and dimming bright lights.
- Ask them to describe what they’re experiencing. Try asking specific questions, like what they’re hearing, what they’re feeling, what they’re seeing, and so on.
- Never reinforce the hallucinations or delusions. However, you also should not argue with them. Instead of saying, “it’s not real,” tell them your perspective, like “I understand you’re scared, but I’m right here, and I don’t (hear/see/smell/feel) that.”
- Coach the person to slow down their breath to help them relax. Have them take some slow deep breaths with you.
- Reassure and support the individual, telling them that you’re with them and that they’re safe.
Watching out for your own safety is also important when dealing with someone who is experiencing psychosis. For instance, if the person begins to grow suspicious or paranoid, don’t approach them.
Keep your distance until they’re calm and reassure them that everything is fine. Remember not to argue, and if a person begins to get violent or aggressive, leave the area right away.
Always call emergency services for someone experiencing aggression, self-harm, or severe paranoia. You should also bring in an addiction specialist as soon as you have the individual calmed down and in a safe place. An addiction specialist will be able to intervene and help put them on the path to treatment.
Treatment Options for Meth Addiction
If you know someone who is suffering from meth addiction, it’s important to seek help before the problem becomes worse. Meth is a powerful stimulant that has severe side effects and even stronger withdrawal symptoms.
The way that meth interacts with the body and its systems makes it impossible for someone to quit meth on their own. Additionally, once meth begins inducing psychosis, users tend to only increase their use of the drug.
Fortunately, the treatment path for meth addiction is effective, and users have options for getting the help they need. The decision starts with reaching out to an addiction specialist who can explain the three types of programs available to treat meth addiction.
Those three programs include intensive inpatient care, partial hospitalization, and flexible outpatient care. For most meth users, inpatient residential care is the safest and most effective option.
At Zinnia Health, we believe every individual deserves personalized treatment that supports their unique challenges and needs. Our caring staff will design a treatment program that is safe and backed by research while still being flexible enough to ensure individuals stick with it and is successful in the long term.
Our methods are intensive, customized, and proven to help people overcome various forms of addiction.