Methamphetamine, often abbreviated as “meth,” is a stimulant drug that can cause dependence. Meth primarily impacts the central nervous system (CNS), raising blood pressure and heart rate. The drug impacts your brain by increasing dopamine.
Meth can also cause kidney (renal) failure, a life threatening complication in which your kidneys can’t effectively process waste from your bloodstream. Kidney failure can lead to long-term health complications, including kidney disease and death, if not promptly treated.
Read on to learn more about what the research says regarding meth and renal failure, other health risks from meth use, and how to seek treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD).
Other names for meth
Meth has a variety of street names, including speed, ice, and crank.
Both prescription and illegal drugs can have nephrotoxic effects, meaning they can damage the kidneys. Meth is one such substance that can cause nephrotoxicity, leading to possible kidney failure.
Having renal failure means your kidneys can no longer function as they should. This leads to a dangerous buildup of wastes in the body that can become life threatening.
Renal failure may be either chronic (long term) or acute (sudden). Nephrotoxicity associated with drugs, such as meth, is
Acute renal failure from meth use may be
- Renal tubular necrosis: A reduction in blood flow to the kidneys and is considered the
most commoncause of acute kidney injury.
- Acute interstitial nephritis: A disorder that damages the small tubes (tubules) inside your kidneys, reducing their overall ability to filter waste.
- Angiitis. Causes inflammation in your blood vessels.
- Rhabdomyolysis. A
serious health conditionin which muscle fibers break down and release proteins that damage both the kidneys and the heart.
Renal failure is only one of many negative health implications of meth, and this risk is associated with short-term and long-term drug use.
Some of the short-term risks of meth use include:
- increased body movements and overall physical activity
- decreased sleep and increased wakefulness
- an increased, rapid heart rate
- faster breathing
- higher blood pressure
- increased body temperature
- reduced appetite
Meth, as with other stimulants, affects dopamine in the brain. Dopamine reinforces pleasurable sensations and experiences, encouraging us to repeat them.
Dopamine’s role in addiction is still being studied, but experts believe it plays a key role in the chemical processes of addiction and the development of SUD.
Even in small amounts, meth can significantly and quickly increase dopamine levels. This can impact the “rewards” system in the brain, fostering an addiction to the substance.
In the long term, meth also poses severe health risks, including:
- damage to organs, such as your kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain
- heart attack
- cognitive changes, including problems with memory and confusion
- impaired learning and coordination
- dental problems
- skin sores from chronic itchiness and scratching
- sleep disorders, such as insomnia
- significant weight loss
- violent behavior
- premature osteoporosis
Also, injectable meth may increase your long-term risk of contracting serious infections. These include hepatitis types B and C, as well as HIV.
Learn more about the connection between IV drug use and viral infections like HCV.
A meth overdose is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Not only does meth overdose increase the risk of organ failure, including the kidneys, but it may also result in heart attack, stroke, or death.
- high blood pressure
- rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- severe abdominal pain
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
It’s important to seek emergency medical help if you or anyone you know may be experiencing a meth overdose so it can be managed in a hospital. Prompt treatment may also reduce the risk of further health consequences.
In addition to the above symptoms of a meth use emergency, signs of kidney failure may include:
- nausea or vomiting
- reduced appetite
- increased urination
- urine that is bubbly or frothy-looking
- bloody or dark urine
- extremely itchy skin
- breathing difficulties
- muscle cramps
- swelling in your legs or feet (edema)
An acute kidney injury may induce kidney failure in as little as 2 days. It’s essential not to assume these symptoms will resolve on their own. Blood, urine, and certain imaging tests can rule out kidney involvement due to drug use or another medical condition.
Not everyone who uses meth or experiences a meth overdose will have kidney failure, but it is a risk. Using meth is never safe for your body as a whole and can cause wide-ranging health complications.
Treatment for meth use and renal failure is twofold: treatment for kidney damage and treatment for a SUD. If the underlying cause of your kidney failure isn’t addressed, the health crisis may repeat or cause even worse effects.
Currently, there are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat meth-related SUD. But for more moderate to severe meth use cases, a doctor
As methamphetamine targets dopamine, a doctor may refer you to a therapist who may implement therapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
This talk therapy helps you work through harmful cycles of thinking and behavior. CBT helps you develop coping techniques to stressors and regulate emotions in healthy, productive ways
Another treatment option to deter drug use may involve external motivational incentives, such as money, vouchers, or other rewards. The idea behind this approach is to replace the “reward” your brain may experience with meth use with safer incentives to reduce the drug’s appeal.
Learn more about what to expect from meth cessation therapy and treatment.
A suspected acute kidney problem related to meth should be addressed immediately to prevent renal failure.
In cases of severe kidney failure, a doctor may
- hemodialysis (being connected to a machine that filters waste from your blood)
- management of any chronic complications with medication
- kidney transplant
Meth is a drug that causes severe health complications and the risk of overdose.
Due to its toxic effects on the kidneys, meth can cause renal failure, meaning your kidneys can’t effectively clear waste from the bloodstream. Untreated, renal failure may create permanent kidney damage or lead to death.
If you suspect symptoms of a meth overdose or kidney failure, it’s important to seek emergency medical help immediately. A doctor may be able to prevent more severe health complications from developing.
In addition to kidney treatment, a doctor may also help refer you to a therapist for help with SUD. You can use the Healthline FindCare tool or SAMHSA’s resource locator to search for mental health professionals and SUD support options in your area.