The increasing harms of ice use

By Rebecca McKetin and Michael Farrell

Much media attention is being given to the rising toll of methamphetamine-related harm in Australia.

This is fuelled by the increased availability and use of high purity crystalline methamphetamine (crystal meth or ice).

Unlike other forms of methamphetamine available in Australia (speed or base), ice (crystalline methamphetamine or crystal meth) can be smoked.

This gives a rapid drug effect because it gets into both the bloodstream and the brain quite quickly.

Coupled with the already very high purity of the drug, this trend of smoking ice has been associated with a marked increase in methamphetamine-related health and social problems.

Available data show a trend toward people using the drug more frequently.

There are more people becoming dependent and needing treatment.

There are more people ending up in hospital or dying from using methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine-related harms arise from both the pharmacological effects of the drug and from the linked behavioural and lifestyle factors.

Most of the serious harms occur with injecting and smoking the drug.

This is also associated with heavier use patterns and a higher likelihood of dependence.

Three serious harms related to the use of methamphetamine are the elevated risk of psychosis, violence and cardiovascular problems.

Psychosis. Heavy methamphetamine use increases the risk of psychotic symptoms beyond any family history of psychosis risk.

These symptoms include hallucinations and paranoia, which are usually transient and subside when people stop taking the drug.

But the risk of symptoms is made worse by use of other substances and other risk factors for psychosis, such as family history, cannabis and alcohol use.