Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a stimulant drug that comes in the form of a white powder or pill. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), meth “increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, which is involved in body movement, motivation, pleasure, and reward.” Meth is chemically similar to amphetamine, which is a medication used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Methamphetamine use is typically done for the “high” that the drug produces on the body, and it is most commonly consumed by inhaling, smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injecting.

Meth can be highly addictive and result in many short-term effects (such as increased activity, decreased appetite, rapid or irregular heartbeat, elevated body temperature, increased blood pressure, and faster breathing) and long-term effects (such as weight loss, dental problems, itching, anxiety, sleeping problems, violence, confusion, paranoia, and hallucinations) on the individual’s mind and body. In absence of meth, once a dependence has been formed, individuals may experience harsh withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, psychosis, and drug cravings. The following meth statistics and interesting meth facts from the NIDA show how serious meth use can be in the United States:

  • Over 4.7 percent of Americans said that they have tried meth at least once
  • 1.2 million people (0.4 percent of the population) have used meth in the last year
  • 440,000 (0.2 percent of the population) have used meth in the last month
  • 133,000 people ages 12 and older started using meth in 2012
  • The average age of meth users in 2012 was 19.7 years old
  • 1 percent of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders used meth in the past year
  • There were 103,000 emergency room visits in 2011 due to methamphetamine use
  • It is the fourth most mentioned illegal drug following cocaine, marijuana, and heroin
  • The majority of meth users were 53 percent male and 68 percent non-Hispanic white
  • Popular in the west and Midwest of the United States
  • Meth treatment ranked first in Hawaii and San Diego, ranked second in San Francisco, and ranked third in Denver and Phoenix

Methamphetamine Use and Heart Failure

The American Heart Association defines heart failure as “a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood through to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Basically, the heart can’t keep up with its workload.” According to an article from ABC News, “Prolonged use of methamphetamine can lead to a variety of cardiovascular problems, including arrhythmias, intracranial bleeding, and congestive heart failure.”

Kim D. Janda, a chemistry professor at the Scripps Research Institute in California, explained how meth can cause a variety of physical and mental problems for an individual over time. “Not only is it addictive, but it can cause a number of complications from cardiovascular to inflammation. It’s a real dirty drug,” said Janda. The reaction between amphetamine and the sugar structures can lead to heart and blood vessel damage. Since you can build up a tolerance to meth, which means that the individual’s body requires more of the drug over time in order to achieve the same effect, this does not help the toll that the drug takes on the heart, either.

NBC Montana Study

Most people would not think that someone who has used meth could also be associated with the military, but one study explained by NBC Montana examined meth’s health impact on veterans. This article discusses a study that was presented at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific meeting that found a correlation between heart failure, meth use, and United States veterans. The author of this study, Dr. Marin Nishimura, is an internal medicine resident at the University of California, San Diego. “Methamphetamine is an addictive drug, which could have a wide range of effects on patients’ physical and mental well-being. In addition to the heart, methamphetamine has been shown to have toxic effects on the brain,” said Nishimura.

Nishimura’s team initially became fascinated with the correlation between heart failure and meth use as they began seeing an increasing number of cases in their hospital for this reason. To complete this study, they looked at the medical records of patients with heart failure between 2005 and 2015 to see which of these cases also contained meth use. Out of the 9,588 patients they found, 480 of them also had a history of meth abuse. Not only did they notice this correlation within the span of ten years, but the numbers increased over time from 2005 to 2015 — 1.7 percent of the heart failure patients in 2005 had a history with meth compared to 8 percent of the heart failure patients having a history with meth in 2015.

The researchers then compared the ages among all of this data. According to Nishimura, “Heart failure patients with methamphetamine abuse were younger, more likely to be homeless, unemployed and diagnosed with other substance-abuse and psychiatric conditions.” The average age of individuals with heart failure and a meth history was 61 years old, which is younger than the average ages of non-meth users with heart failure which was 72 years old.

The meth users were also more likely to have more physical and mental health problems than those who were not meth users. The study found that it was common for the meth users to have post-traumatic stress disorders and depression, as well as physical ailments like atrial fibrillation, irregular heartbeat, blood clots, and strokes. Nishimura said that she can use these statistics to improve how heart failure patients are treated more effectively.

Kirane’s Response

Director of addiction services at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, Dr. Harshal Kirane, was not involved in this study explained by NBC Montana. Although, he said that the study is helping to address the various needs of United States veterans. Over five percent of hospitalizations due to heart failure in America come as a result of stimulant drug use. “Methamphetamine use is associated with numerous well-established health consequences in essentially all systems of the body, and methamphetamine-associated cardiomyopathy is still only partially understood,” said Kirane.

  • “Military veterans are an especially vulnerable population for developing mental health and substance abuse issues,” said Kirane.

Kirane went one step beyond this study to question why veterans may be more susceptible to meth use and what kinds of care they can receive for it. “It also raises questions about the underlying biology of the heart that may make some individuals exquisitely vulnerable to developing heart failure from methamphetamine use. The fact that potent illicit drugs can be manufactured from over-the-counter medications has contributed to increased methamphetamine use in regions of the country less accessible to major drug trafficking pathways such as rural communities. What is certainly contributing to the current popularity is likely due to the fact that it can be synthesized in small-scale laboratories. And sold at relatively low street prices,” said Kirane.

If you or a loved one is suffering from methamphetamine use or addiction, get help right away. Call Stop Your Addiction to learn about the various forms of treatment available for your unique situation. In order to get started on your journey to long-term sobriety, call Stop Your Addiction today!