What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is one of the amphetamine group of drugs, which are all manufactured from readily available chemicals. Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug. Stimulants speed up the function of the brain and nervous system. Methamphetamine is available in three different forms commonly known as speed, base and ice. Variations in the methamphetamine structure produce other drugs and MDMA (methylene dioxy methamphetamine) or ecstasy is the best known example. For more information see Ecstasy Drug Facts. Sometimes, but not often, doctors prescribe amphetamine drugs to treat particular health problems. But mostly people use amphetamine that is made illegally. Most of these drugs currently sold on the street are methamphetamine or variants that are stronger than amphetamines.

Forms of methamphetamine

Speed, base and ice are all the same drug, methamphetamine, but they differ in their purity. Ice is about 80 per cent pure, whereas speed is typically around 10 to 20 per cent pure. The purity of ice makes the effects stronger and longer lasting but also makes it more addictive with worse side effects.


Speed usually comes in the form of white or yellow powder, but can also be bought as pills. People either sniff it through the nose (snort it), inject it or swallowed it in tablet or capsule form. Speed is also known as go-ee, whiz, rev and uppers. People who sell speed often mix or cut the powder with other things that look the same, to make the drug go further. Some mixed-in substances can have unpleasant or harmful effects. It is difficult to tell what thedrug actually contains.


Base is a damp or oily substance with a white to yellow or brown colour which is more pure than powder. It can vary a lot in its appearance and is also known as pure, paste and wax. Base is usually injected but sometimes swallowed.


Ice is the purest form of methamphetamine available. It usually looks like colourless to white crystals, or a coarse crystal-like powder. It can also appear in other colours. Ice is also called tik, crystal, crystal meth, meth or shabu. Ice is usually smoked or injected. A drug that is smoked or injected enters the brain more quickly which makes it much more addictive. Ice is also sniffed through the nose (snorted), swallowed or
inserted into the anus (shafted). Because of its purity, ice is more powerful than speed and base and a given amount puts a greater strain on the body. Its use can therefore be much more dangerous. It has stronger side effects and a worse comedown.

What methamphetamine does to you depends on:
• how much you take and how pure it is
• your height and weight
• your general health
• your mood
• your past experience with speed
• whether you use methamphetamine
on its own or with other drugs
• whether you use alone or with others, at home or at a party, etc.
The immediate and long-term effects of all types of methamphetamine are the same. Because ice is a more potent or purer form of methamphetamine, all the effects and side-effects will be more likely to happen and be more intense than with speed or base.
Immediate effects

Small amounts
When you take a small amount of methamphetamine the effects can last from a few hours to a few days. You may:
• feel very good and confident
• feel alert and energetic
• be excited or agitated
• talk a lot
• feel aggressive
• feel anxious or panicky
• take more risks than usual.
Effects on your body may include that:
• your heart beats faster
• you breathe faster
• you feel less hungry
• your blood pressure rises
• the pupils in your eyes get bigger
• you move more quickly
• it is hard to sleep.

Large amounts
If you take a large amount of methamphetamine you might:
• get headaches
• feel dizzy
• feel restless
• shake
• have irregular breathing
• have a very fast or irregular heartbeat
• become pale
• feel very powerful or better than others
• become hostile or aggressive
• have psychosis — a serious psychological problem where you hear voices, imagine things, and/or fear that others want to hurt you.

Long-term effects

If you use methamphetamine often and for a long time you may:
• become dependent on the drug
• often become violent for no reason
• get sick more often because your body can’t resist disease properly
• be upset or depressed
• have periods of psychosis
• have relationship, work, money, legal or housing problems.

The way a person takes methamphetamine over a long time can also cause problems such as:
• Snorting the drug can lead to nosebleeds, sinus problems and damage inside the nose.
• Injecting the drug with used or dirty needles or other equipment makes you more likely to get infected with hepatitis C, hepatitis B and/or HIV, get blood poisoning (septicaemia) and skin abscesses (sores with pus).
• Injecting the drug over a long time can result in: – blocked blood vessels (caused by the drug constricting your blood vessels or by the things sometimes mixed with ‘speed’) leading to serious damage to the body’s organs such as the liver, heart, kidneys – inflamed blood vessels and abscesses.
• Injecting and snorting amphetamine type substances also increases the risk of becoming dependent on the drug and of getting other health problems.


Overdose of methamphetamine can happen to anyone. Even small amounts may cause overdose with some people who have an especially strong reaction to it. When a person overdoses, it may cause:
• methamphetamine psychosis
• faster, irregular or weak heartbeat
• heart attack
• bleeding blood vessels in the brain
• very high fever
• death (rarely).

Mixing speed, base or ice with other drugs

People who use methamphetamine sometimes take other drugs at the same time to cope with some of the things methamphetamine does to the body. Some people take drugs such as minor tranquillisers, alcohol, marijuana or heroin to help them sleep. This can make you dependent on several drugs at once. For example, some people need speed or ice each day to get them going and minor tranquillisers each night to get to sleep. This type of dependence can lead to many serious physical and psychological problems. Mixing different drugs can also make you more likely to overdose.

Methamphetamine and pregnancy
Using methamphetamine when you are pregnant may increase the chance of losing the baby befor it is born or having the baby too early as well as other problems. Babies of mothers using speed, base or ice may weigh less and may get withdrawal symptoms from the mother’s methamphetamine use. Little is known about the long-term effects on the child as it grows.
Tolerance and dependence
Anyone can develop a tolerance to speed, base or ice. Tolerance means that you must take more of the drug to feel the same effects you used to have with lower amounts. Dependence on a drug such as methamphetamine means that it takes up a lot of your thoughts, emotions and activities. You also have trouble cutting back on your drug use even though it is causing you problems. Dependence on speed, base or ice can lead to a variety of health, money, legal, work and relationship problems. Not all people who use methamphetamine are dependent.
People who are dependent on speed, base or ice may find it very hard to stop using or cut down because of withdrawal symptoms.
These can include:
• tiredness
• hunger
• chest pains
• feeling confused, anxious or agitated
• weight loss
• deep depression (feeling very down or sad)
• being nervy or restless
• feeling angry or upset
• long but disturbed sleep
• wanting the drug very badly (cravings).
These symptoms are usually fairly short-lived and most withdrawing people don’t need medication. However, if you are worried about withdrawal, contact your doctor or health centre.