Methamphetamines -- which can be swallowed, injected, snorted or smoked -- stimulate brain cells and the user's mood, according to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Users who smoke or inject the drug feel a pleasurable "flash" or "rush" that lasts a few minutes. Oral and nasal use produces a longer-lasting high; users of any type can become addicted quickly.

Animal research shows that high doses of meth can damage neuron cell endings. Citing human data, NIDA reports that meth raises heart rate and blood pressure and "can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes."

Meth users may experience a range of effects, NIDA reports, including: euphoria, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), cardiovascular collapse, irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anorexia, anxiety, paranoia, aggressiveness and increased wakefulness, respiration and physical activity. Hyperthermia and convulsions may lead to death, reports NIDA.

"Meth mouth" -- a condition characterized by extensive tooth decay -- results from "the acidic nature of the drug, the drug's [dry mouth] effect, its propensity to cause cravings for high calorie carbonated beverages, tooth grinding and clenching and . . . extended periods of poor oral hygiene," according to an American Dental Association report, which cites three published studies linking dental problems with meth and other drug abuse.

The Numbers About 11.7 million Americans ages 12 and older reported having tried meth at least once, according to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use & Health. About 6.2 percent of high school seniors surveyed in 2004 reported ever using meth, according to a survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

In many gay clubs, according to the NIDA report, meth users share needles to inject the drug, "placing users and their partners at risk for transmission of HIV, hepatitis C" and other diseases.

Meth Makers Manufacturing meth "creates hazardous waste and poses significant health and environmental hazards," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For every pound of meth produced, "about six pounds of toxic waste are left behind."

Virginia recently restricted the sale of substances used to produce the drug. Ingredients in meth labs "often are corrosive, explosive, flammable, and toxic, and can cause fires, explosions, and other uncontrolled reactions," states a report on the new restrictions. Part of the danger, the report says, is that meth labs are found in a variety of places, including "motel rooms, private residences, campgrounds and motor vehicles."

-- January W. Payne