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Frequently Asked Questions

Amphetamines

Amphetamines are a group of drugs that increase the activity of certain chemicals in the brain and are classed as stimulant drugs.

Some other names for amphetamine are ICE, speed, crystal meth, meth, whip, goey, shards, rock, uppers, whizz and dexies.

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs that increase the activity of certain chemicals in the brain. They refer to a number of slightly different chemical compounds with very similar activities.

Some examples of amphetamines include:

  • dexamphetamine, which is used for medical purposes to treat conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); and
  • amphetamine sulphate, known mainly as speed
  • methamphetamine, which is a more potent form of amphetamine, known mainly as 'crystal', 'meth', 'rock' or 'ice'.

Methamphetamine has four common forms – tablet, crystal (also referred to as ice or rock), base (also referred to as paste) and powder (also referred to as speed).

As such, ‘meth’ is the drug methamphetamine and ‘speed ‘ is the powder form of ‘meth’ and ‘ice’ is the crystal form of ‘meth’.

Methamphetamine ranges in colour from almost clear in its crystal form to white, pink, yellow, orange, blue, green or brown.

Amphetamine increases the activity of certain chemicals in the brain and are classed as stimulant drugs. Stimulant drugs increase the body’s state of arousal by increasing the activity of the brain.

People use drugs for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:

  • To have fun, forget problems or as a form of escapism
  • To gain confidence and socialise
  • Out of curiosity
  • To lessen inhibitions
  • To remove personal responsibility for decisions
  • To celebrate or commiserate
  • To relieve boredom and stress.
  • Self-medication to cope with problems.
  • To stay awake or alert.

The effects of amphetamines include anxiety, depression, paranoia, aggression and psychotic symptoms.

There is no safe level of illicit drug use. All drugs including amphetamines will affect each person differently depending on the persons characteristics (such as physical size, gender, mood, diet, fitness, age, expectations and health), the drug itself (such as the amount used and its purity), and how it is taken and the environment a person is in when using the drug.

Short term effects at higher doses include:

  • Pale skin.
  • Feelings of being powerful or superior.
  • Repetitive movement.
  • Irregular breathing.
  • Very rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Jaw clamping/teeth grinding.
  • Panic attacks.

Long term effects in addition to the short term effects include:

  • Malnutrition and weight loss.
  • Reduced resistance to infection.
  • Violent behaviour.
  • Emotional disturbances.
  • Periods of psychosis.
  • Delusional thoughts and behaviour.
  • Mood swings.

The effects of methamphetamine include anxiety, depression, paranoia, aggression and psychotic symptoms. Methamphetamine also increases the risk of mental health problems, especially in people with an existing mental health condition or vulnerability to mental health problems.

As methamphetamine is more potent than dexamphetamine, users are likely to experience more severe side-effects.

Yes. Overdose or toxicity from amphetamines usually results from the drug’s stimulatory properties and can cause strokes, heart failure, seizures and death. The risk of overdose generally increases with a larger dose. As the strength and content of street amphetamines is unknown it can be difficult to judge the dose, increasing the risk of overdose.

A drug overdose is life threatening.  If you suspect bad effects from drugs every second counts, react fast and call an ambulance immediately (dial 000 from anywhere in Australia). Police will not normally attend unless ambulance officers are threatened or there is a death.

There are a number of signs and symptoms that point out someone is in trouble. Some of these include:

  • Hyperactivity, sweating
  • Rapid breathing or a feeling that you ‘can’t breathe’
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Shaking / Trembling / spasms
  • Chest pain, pounding heart
  • Raised temperature
  • Body chills
  • Disorientation
  • Severe Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Paranoid, delusional, agitated, irritable, anxious or psychotic behaviour
  • Convulsions

REMEMBER: It is not necessary for someone to have all of these signs or symptoms for them to be overdosing. Only a few could still mean they are in trouble and need emergency help (000).

There has been emerging evidence that amphetamine use is linked to serious long-term health effects, including depression, anxiety, psychosis and memory disturbance.

A pilot study was developed in Perth to determine if amphetamine users had brain abnormalities that neither they nor their doctors treating them suspected. People who presented to the Royal Perth Hospital Emergency Department with amphetamine-related symptoms were eligible to be recruited for the study. Brain abnormalities were detected using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and is defined when the brain has been injured by drug use resulting in an abnormality in the brain.

The results from this pilot study showed that one in five cases had an brain lesion or brain scarring. The most common MRI abnormality seen was an unidentified bright object (UBO), of which were mostly found in the frontal region of the brain. This finding is consistent with other reports of frontal abnormalities in methamphetamine users.

There has been emerging evidence that amphetamine use is linked to serious long-term health effects, including depression, anxiety, psychosis and memory disturbance.

Amphetamines can bring about psychotic features in people with no history of mental health issues (amphetamine-induced psychosis) or it can expose an underlying vulnerability to a mental health issue.  If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health issue, amphetamines can exacerbate the psychotic features of that illness and can also have a detrimental effect on medications used to control mental health issues.

Amphetamines can be inhaled (snorted), swallowed, smoked or injected.

As well as the dangerous effects associated with the drug the method of use can lead to additional harm.  Snorting can cause burns and sores on the membrane that lines the interior of the nose. Swallowing can damage the teeth, throat and stomach lining.  Smoking can lead to lung damage.  Injecting can result in major damage to the body’s organs, such as inflamed blood vessels and abscesses, blood poisoning, bacterial infections which may damage the heart valves, vein collapse, infection at injection site, as well as lead to the transmission of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. If injecting, sterile syringes should be used at all times.

There is also a misconception that people will not experience mental health issues if they smoke the drug as opposed to injecting it, but this is false.

Addiction is a complex issue and is very often psychological. Amphetamine is potentially an addictive drug and there are many problems associated with its use. However, not everyone who takes amphetamine will become addicted to it. Some people, for varying reasons will become addicted and some won’t. This comes back to the psychological nature of addiction.

Like other drugs associated with addiction or dependency problems (alcohol, heroin, cannabis etc), amphetamines act in the brain to initially produce pleasurable feelings. Vulnerable individuals will be prone to repeatedly use the drug to experience these feelings. With repeated use the negative and damaging behavioural and psychological features of dependency start to develop. Once a dependency has developed, drug use is no longer enjoyable but becomes necessary to prevent the development of withdrawal symptoms – thus people become trapped and are unable to stop using the drug despite in many instances no longer wanting to.

Unlike regular and dependent users of other drugs such as alcohol and heroin, some regular users of amphetamines do not use every day. Rather, they are more likely to use continuously over several days to a week (sometimes called a binge). The effects of the drug may include feelings of euphoria, reduced appetite and inability to sleep. Of course, no-one can do without sleep indefinitely so this combined with inadequate nutrition results in exhaustion, paranoia, anxiety and depression. This is sometimes called a crash. To respond to the crash, the person might then start using again, and this can be commencement of the binge-crash cycle.

As with many drugs, the come down depends on how long, how frequently and how much of the drug has been used.

If someone has had a one-off binge, they may have severe fatigue, anxiety and depression for a few days until they catch up on rest and food. If a person has been using regularly, heavily and for a long time, withdrawal symptoms can last for up to 3 weeks.

It is important to remember that even once the physical addiction and withdrawal has ended, people coming off long-term stimulant use may also face a long period of dealing with altered mood, including anxiety and depression for some time after this. They may also experience cravings for methamphetamine and other psychological and emotional symptoms associated with not using anymore. This period of overcoming the psychological and emotional aspects of long-term drug use can last for long periods of time depending on the person’s situation.

Amphetamines affect everyone differently. The strength, dose, and how often it’s used can affect how long it stays in their system. It can also affect the individual depending on their tolerance, age and gender, overall health, metabolism, mood and environment they are in.

Amphetamines can be detected in blood from 4-8 hours after use, in urine for up to 3-4 days after use, and in saliva for approximately 24 hour after use, but can depend on the amount and potency used, and a person’s metabolism rate.

It is important to note that the detection of drugs and their metabolites in any biological sample (blood, urine and saliva) can change depending on the individual person and their biological factors and most suggested time frames are based on scientific studies but individual results may vary.

There is no safe level of illicit amphetamine use. 

There is research to suggest that amphetamine use can result in fertility issues for both men and women. 

There are also risks associated with amphetamine use during pregnancy. It has been linked with bleeding, early labour and miscarriage and can affect the baby's development before birth.  Amphetamines also cause the heart rate of mother and baby to increase.

If amphetamines are used close to birth, the baby may be born directly affected, and may be over-active and agitated.  Babies of mothers who regularly use amphetamines may also experience withdrawal symptoms in the first few weeks after birth.

It is not yet known whether children of mothers who used amphetamines during their pregnancy experience long-term problems in mental or physical growth, but initial studies give some cause for concern.

Yes. Amphetamines can impair driving ability by:

  • Giving the driver a false sense of confidence;
  • Rash decision making and exaggerated confidence can lead to increased risk taking behaviour; and
  • Greatly affecting drivers' reflexes, coordination and ability to concentrate on driving due to the tiredness and inability to sleep; which increases the risk of being involved in a crash that could result in fatality or serious injury.

In Western Australia, it is against the law for anyone to drive with the presence of an illicit drug prescribed within the Road Traffic Act 1974, or impaired by a drug. Penalties apply for those convicted.

There is no safe level of amphetamine use. Because amphetamines are harmful, it is against the law for people in Western Australia to use, possess, manufacture or sell/supply amphetamines.

A person convicted of a drug offence will receive a criminal record and this can lead to difficulties in getting a job, credit or visas for overseas travel.

Using amphetamines can also impact on your life in many ways. For example, the cost of purchasing amphetamines can lead to financial problems and drug use can lead to social and emotional problems that affect relationships with family and friends.

We would recommend that you contact WA Police for any other questions on amphetamines and the law (www.police.wa.gov.au).

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Call the Meth Helpline on 1800 874 878