What Lies Ahead for Crystal Meth?

In 2021, The Independent dubbed crystal meth ‘the drug of the future.’ The article goes on to suggest that this is due to the financial efficacy of the drug; a meth hit lasts longer than a cocaine hit, for example. This suggests that with crystal meth, you ‘get your money’s worth.’

But what is the impact of discourses like these? What are the emerging trends in hard drug use, and how do these colour the future consequences of crystal meth abuse in communities around the globe?

Meth Abuse Today: Key Facts & Statistics

Considering the scope of crystal meth use today can help us to consider what the future of crystal methamphetamine might look like.

Meth: Key Facts

Methamphetamine (frequently shorted to meth, also known as crystal meth)is an amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS). This means that it belongs to a specific subtype within the stimulant category of drugs.

Since the discovery of meth in the 1920s, the substance has a long and complex history. It has variably been available as a form of diet medication and antidepressant and was infamously used by ‘super soldiers’ on both sides of the Second World War.

Today, meth is an illegal substance. Whilst amphetamine (a drug with a very similar chemical structure to meth) is used to treat symptoms of sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), crystal meth is accessed solely through the licit drug trade.

Meth comes with a set of wide-ranging effects. During and shortly after taking meth, users of the drug may experience:

  • Initial feelings of being very awake or alert


  • Initial feelings of confidence following the rush of ‘feed good’ hormones


  • A decrease in hunger levels


  • Rapid breathing


  • Increase in heartbeat and blood pressure


  • Rise in body temperature

Meth: Statistics

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the number of meth-related deaths in America in the year 2010 was 1,854. Fast forward to six years later, and this number had risen to 5,716.

This rise in prevalence is not limited to the United States. 111 countries and territories had reported issues with ‘new psychoactive substances,’ before 2016.

Meth currently dominates the synthetic drug market, and seizures of the substance have multiplied by six since 2011. This leads to the report warning that the impact of meth is ‘greatly underestimated.’

Meth Abuse Today: Key Impacts

The main threat of meth lies in three key areas:

  1. Dangerous side effects
  2. Addictive quality
  3. Mortality risk

These three elements pose a risk to the individual user and represent a potential public health issue when considered en-masse.

Side Effects

Meth is an insidious substance; its long-term impacts are particularly dangerous and present a genuine risk to both physical and mental health. We tend to associate side effects with heavy use. However, with meth, similar to other Class A substances, it’s difficult to identify what level of use leads to specific symptoms.

That has led to the belief that there is no safe level of use for drugs such as methamphetamine, as potentially all engagement with the substance carries a level of risk.

Meth’s Long-term effects on the body:

  • Alters the function and structure of the brain


  • Extreme weight loss due to changed in adipose tissue


  • Skin issues, including lesions


  • Heart issues, potential risk of cardiac arrest and stroke


  • Liver and kidney issues, including potential risk of organ failure


  • Lung issues


  • Osteoporosis (weakening of bones)


  • Damage to the teeth


Meth’s Long-term effects on mental health:

  • Anxiety


  • Depression


  • Paranoia


  • Meth-induced psychosis


  • Hallucinations (hearing, seeing or otherwise perceiving what others do not)


  • Delusions (persistent beliefs that are not consistent with reality)


  • Issues with sleep


  • Issues with memory



One of the main implications of using meth is addiction. Addiction tends to occur without our noticing it. It’s common for someone to be using a substance recreationally, to feel secure and in control – and then suddenly, signs of dependency begin to set in. This is because it is not possible to identify the point where addiction begins. It is a gradual process, meaning we can not identify which use will start to trap us in the cycle of addiction.

Instances of meth use disorder among US adults have increased by 105%. A survey of drug use in the United States indicated that in 2021, 0.6% of the population were dealing with an addiction to meth. That equates to around 1.6 million people. Strikingly, some of these individuals were as young as twelve years old.

Whilst stereotypes may lead us to believe that addiction is more common in male identifying populations, research has indicated that women appear to begin meth use earlier than men, and therefore develop a deeper dependency on the substance over time. However, these women tend to have better treatment outcomes than their male counterparts.

The research also suggests instances of meth addiction among members of the black community have multiplied by ten.

This indicates that meth addiction is perhaps more widespread than we may think; both in terms of age group, but also in terms of demographic. With ‘an increased diversity in populations [experiencing] methamphetamine-use disorder’ we can see how meth has begun to spread across society in a range of different ways.


Between 2015 and 2019, meth-related deaths in the United States have tripled. In 2021, the number of deaths associated with meth clocked in at around 32,537.

But what does the mortality data tell us? Why has there been such a surge in deaths linked with the use of crystal meth? Is this down to an increase in use, or a change in production? What could these changes mean for the future?

The Future of Crystal Meth: Reasons for Concern

Drug trends tend to change annually. This is the reason behind the yearly publication of data by bodies such as the US and UK governments, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.

This suggests that anticipating the future of meth use is a difficult task; we cannot know for sure how meth’s role in society will evolve over time. But something we can do, is to hypothesise on the future of the drug by extrapolating based on the information we have about meth use today.

We can track the historic journey meth has taken over time – and compare it to trends seen among other substances – in order to anticipate what might come next for meth.

Crystal Meth Alternatives and Derivatives

Alternative Substrates

Crystal meth is produced through processes of ‘cooking’ ephedrine. Ephedrine itself is derived from a plant native to China, known as the ephedra plant.
Ephedrine is a substrate of meth. This means that by interacting with ephedrine through specific chemical processes, meth can be made. Meth ‘cooking’ involves the combining of multiple chemicals (including a substrate) with a solvent. This is then heated until it achieves the desired crystalline structure.

Whilst, historically, meth is made with ephedrine, it has increasingly been produced with the use of alternative substrates. This is largely due to the limited access to ephedrine due to legal regulations and legislations aimed at slowing down meth production.

One of the most commonly used alternatives is pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is readily available in medicines used to treat coughs, colds and congestion. If treated in a similar way to ephedrine, it can also be used to create a form of crystal meth.

The risk of identifying more substrates for meth production means that it can be easier for meth to be manufactured through the use of different synthetic drug derivatives. This then increased the amount of the drug on the market. When there is a proliferation of a substance in the drug trade, prices can decrease. This then leads to easier access, meaning that purchase and use of meth can spread even further.

Diversification of the Market

Meth is increasingly available in different forms. It can be accessed in the form of tablets, as a smokable substance or in an injectable iteration.

Meth can be used in several different methods. It can be:

  • Smoked


  • Snorted


  • Injected


  • Swallowed


The preference for the method of use varies over time. At some points, specific styles of use can become popular among different demographics and in different areas of the world.

For instance, from the 1960s, meth tablets were orally ingested. They were used primarily by working class individuals and were considered ‘performance enhancing’ in the workplace.

From the 1990s, however, meth was smoked. In this period meth use was associated with ‘youths and students’ and was linked to recreational or ‘party use.’

Crystal meth, however, is linked to the middle and working classes. It is perceived to be a status symbol in this context, and the preferred method of use is through smoking, snorting or injecting.

This suggests that there is a risk of specific modes of meth use coming in and out of vogue. Each method comes with its own dangers; for example, injecting meth can lead to infections and blood-borne viruses developing, or even lead to damage to the veins.

With the popularity of using styles ebbing and flowing, it is not possible to identify which type of use will proliferate in the future. However, the choice of usage is concerning in and of itself.

The Role of Digital Platforms in the Drug Trade

When we first think of drugs in the digital era, we might think of the use of social media. Social media makes every aspect of life more visible, including the use of substances. This has led to a risky environment wherein ‘digital media [can] provide increased opportunities for both marketing and social transmission of risky products and behaviour.’

This means that the social pressures around drugs can be further heightened on social media. However, there is another aspect of the digital world that can have a significant impact on the drug trade.

There has been an increased use in the dark web as a way of facilitating the drug trade.
Internet security provider Norton defines the dark web as ‘parts of the internet consisting of hidden sites that aren’t indexed by conventional search engines.’ This makes the dark web a hotbed for the sourcing and selling of illicit products, including drugs like methamphetamine.

Sales of drugs on the dark web have been increasing – that is, until 2020, when they began to decline. There are several theories behind this, but the prevailing hypothesis is that drug sales on the dark web – just like drug trade more generally – were reduced due to limited access during the lockdown stages of COVID-19.

However, there is a significant risk of these numbers beginning to rise again. With the rise of technology such as cryptocurrency, dark web purchases can become even harder to trace. This adds additional levels of secrecy – and therefore, safety – for both buyers and sellers. This then leads to an increase in confidence and, subsequently, a growth in the drug trade.

Meth Abuse & Law Enforcement

In the UK, methamphetamine is a Class A drug. That means that the penalties associated with meth are particularly severe.

If you are caught possessing meth, you can be issued an unlimited fine and can be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison. If you are caught with quantities of meth that suggest you are involved in any stage of the manufacturing or selling side of things, the potential sentence gets increased to life.

What Might This Mean for Meth?

A future proliferation of meth can result in a range of dangers:

  • A risk of meth being ‘cut’ with other substances, therefore increasing risk


  • A risk of meth being developed with alternative substrates, therefore increasing the amount of meth available on the market


  • A risk of meth sales increasing through the use of digital platforms


All of these dangers illuminate the possibility of meth use becoming even more prevalent throughout society. This then indicates rising use across all demographics and higher cases of meth addiction.

With this comes a greater risk of mortality, as well as concerns around the ability of the health and social care and justice systems to adequately implement the measures needed to reduce the risk of meth on society as a whole.

Help for Meth Addiction

If you are concerned about how to stop taking crystal meth, there are options available to help you curb your addiction. We would be more than happy to chat with you about the options available at our UKAT centres. Our dedicated team can talk you through the different types of intervention we offer (including supervised meth detox and dedicated meth rehab) to help you to decide what form of support best reflects your current needs.

Contact us today to find out how to make a referral for treatment at one of our specialist rehab centres.

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