Ice abuse & addiction: Devastating effects of crystal methamphetamine

Ice is the slang term for the illegal Class A drug Crystal methamphetamine.

Crystal methamphetamine is extremely addictive as it produces a very pronounced euphoric high that is moderate to long-lasting.

Ice is a stimulant and a psychoactive drug that is commonly known by other street slang names such as Tina, Shard, Crystal, Crank, Glass, Quartz, Meth, Super Ice and Crystal meth.

Crystal methamphetamine stimulates the Central Nervous System and is a more potent form of powder methamphetamine, known as Speed.

Ice gets its name from its appearance, which resembles pieces of ice and crystals. However, Ice can also have a brownish or yellowish appearance and have a strong bitter taste and potent smell.

There is a saying about crystal methamphetamine that it is not a drug you can only use once. This is due to its addictiveness and the powerful high it delivers. However, Ice has devastating effects on a person’s mind and body. Read on to find out more about the drug and how Ice abuse can easily lead to addiction and dependence 1.

Why is ICE so addictive?

ICE belongs to a group of drugs known as amphetamine stimulants and is a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Possession of Crystal methamphetamine can result in up to 7 years in prison in the UK.

Crystal Methamphetamine is hugely addictive due to its powerful effects on the brain’s feel-good chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. Ice delivers a high that is similar to crack cocaine, followed by a come-down. It is the come down that drives a person to seek the high again, as its effects are very unpleasant and cravings for more are extreme.

When the effects of Ice wear off, a person will experience anxiety and depression due to an abrupt depletion of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These uncomfortable and often pronounced come-down effects can cause a person to go on a crystal meth binge 2

How Ice the drug is made

Making Crystal methamphetamine is a very hazardous process. Not only are the ingredients used to make ICE extremely toxic, but the process also creates highly flammable and poisonous gases.

If you have ever watched the TV series Breaking Bad, you will recall the main characters wearing biohazard suits to protect themselves whilst making crystal meth in homemade laboratories. You may also recall their labs exploding on several occasions.

Yes, making crystal methamphetamine is extremely dangerous. Nevertheless, due to the high demand and profit, this drug is mass-produced in many countries.

The ingredients of crystal methamphetamine are often extracted from cold and flu medicines that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. These ingredients are synthesized using filters and chemicals.

Once meth has been made, it is then added to a solvent such as petrol (gasoline). The mixture is then heated until it crystalises, producing small clear, yellow, blue or brown-tinted crystals. There are other methods of making Ice, and each comes with its own risks to the people producing it and the environment.

The toxic waste made by Crystal Meth/Ice harms the environment, causing pollution to the surrounding farmlands and countryside. 3,4

How Crystal Methamphetamine is used: Methods of administration

Crystal methamphetamine can be used in a variety of ways. The route of administration will affect how long the drug takes to kick in, the intensity of its effects and how long the meth high lasts.

Ice can be smoked and this is the most common form of administration as it requires little preparation. The Ice crystal is heated, and the vapours are inhaled—some users who start out smoking Ice progress to injecting the drug.

Injecting Crystal methamphetamine delivers an instantaneous and powerful high, especially when injected intravenously. A person who has become tolerant of the effects of smoking crystal meth may opt to inject in order to feel the drug’s desired effects again.

Additionally, Ice can also be crushed and snorted, ingested orally by taking in pill form or dissolving in water, and absorbed through the lining of the rectal passage or vagina.

Regardless of how a person uses Ice to get high, the same risks of addiction preside.

The risks and harms of Crystal Methamphetamine

All methods of using Ice carry harmful risks to the user aside from drug tolerance, dependence and addiction. It is important to note that dependence and addiction to crystal methamphetamine are considered life-threatening. At any point, a person who is addicted or dependent can unintentionally overdose and die.

Here, we have outlined the most prominent risks that are associated with the various methods of crystal methamphetamine use.

Smoking/Inhaling Crystal methamphetamine/Ice

Smoking crystal methamphetamine in its original hydrochloride salt form is the most common method of use, especially in new or infrequent users. This method requires little preparation and involves heating up the Ice until it releases inhalable vapours. These vapours can then be inhaled through a glass pipe or straw.

Smoking crystal meth causes the most damage to the mouth, eroding and decaying teeth and gums and surrounding tissues. This is where the term ‘meth mouth; derives from. As the vapours are inhaled into the lungs, the lung tissue can also become eroded and infected. This drug is highly toxic and has harmful effects on every single part of the body.

The vapours from smoking crystal methamphetamine are also dangerous for others as they can be passively inhaled.

This method also carries the risk of contracting blood-borne viruses if a pipe is shared with an infected user.

Oral administration

Ice can be administered orally, but before the effects take place, it has to be absorbed through the digestive tract. This results in the high taking around 20 to 30 minutes to be felt.

Many users take crystal methamphetamine in pill form, mass-produced by manufacturers. Instead of an intense rush, swallowing a crystal methamphetamine pill produces a euphoric high that is less powerful and dissipates more quickly.

As Ice is a very toxic substance, and pills can contain other noxious substances. The effects of this method of administration can vary. The associated risks with oral administration of crystal methamphetamine are most likely to occur in the digestive tract where absorption into the bloodstream takes place.

Putting Crystal Methamphetamine in your rectal passage or vagina

You may be surprised to learn that this method of using meth is actually considered the most dangerous and most likely to end in overdose. This is because when Ice is absorbed through the rectal passage or vaginal tissues it bypasses the body’s biological responses that safeguard a person against overdose. It also carries the risks of tissue erosion, infections, sexually transmitted diseases and blood-borne viruses 5

Injecting Crystal Methamphetamine

Any form of injecting Ice is considered to be very risky and is a method that causes many unintentional overdoses.

Crystal methamphetamine can be injected into a vein, subcutaneously (under the skin) or into a muscle. Each method of injecting carries its own harms and risks.

Intravenous injection of Ice

The intravenous injection carries the most risk out of all of the methods of injecting crystal methamphetamine.

Once prepared and injected into the vein, Ice is quickly transported via the bloodstream to the brain and all the major organs. Injecting intravenously can result in collapsed veins, infections, abscesses and blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis and HIV from sharing needles.

Most meth users do not start out by injecting but succumb to it by developing tolerance to other methods of administration.

Administering crystal meth by injection delivers the most intense and powerful rush, but it is also the riskiest.

Subcutaneous injection

Subcutaneous injection is where Ice is administered via a hypodermic needle just beneath the skin. Subceouteous injection is also referred to as ‘skin popping’. Injecting the drug just beneath the skin results in a more mellow high as it is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than when injecting directly into a vein.

Subceouteous injecting of Crystal methamphetamine carries similar risks to intravenous use and can cause infections, abscesses and the spread of blood-borne viruses from contaminated needles.

Intramuscular injection

Intramuscular injection of Ice is where the drug is administered straight into a muscle via a hypodermic needle. Once in the muscle, the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, albeit at a slower pace than if injected into a vein. Some of the drugs remain in the muscle tissues, causing erosion and infection. Again, this method of administration carries the risk of blood born viruses and infections.

The effects of Crystal Methamphetamine

The effects of ICE are similar to that of Crack cocaine, except that they last longer. Crystal Meth is also cheaper than Crack cocaine to buy, so it appeals to a broader spectrum of users.

A Crystal methamphetamine high lasts anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, depending on the purity of the drug, the route of administration and a person’s tolerance.

During a crystal meth high, a person will likely feel:

  • Super focused
  • Alert
  • Energetic
  • Euphoric
  • Talkative
  • Powerful
  • Excited
  • Confident
  • Have an increased libido
  • A decrease in appetite. 6

Because of these effects, Ice can be attractive to those that suffer from depression, isolation, boredom or who have libido problems and sexual dysfunction.

How Ice affects the brain and body

The effects of crystal methamphetamine affect the body and brain function, resulting in physical and psychological symptoms.

Ice’s effects on the body

  • Loss of appetite, resulting in rapid weight loss
  • Facial sores, spots and lesions
  • Gum disease and decaying teeth
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Dilated enlarged pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • High body temperature
  • Restlessness
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Hyper alertness
  • Headaches
  • Uncontrollable twitching
  • Dangerously high blood pressure
  • Extreme sweating
  • Shaking
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Rapid heartbeat and palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Stroke 6

Ice’s psychological effects on the brain:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Violent behaviour
  • Increased focus and concentration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessive energy
  • Unusual excitement and enthusiasm
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Desire to be sociable
  • Feelings of invincibility and superhuman powers
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • Agitation and restlessness leading to obsessive skin picking and scratching
  • Obsessive behaviours
  • Drug-induced psychosis 6

Crystal Meth can stay in your system for anywhere from 1 to 3 days in urine, blood and saliva. In hair analysis, Ice use can be detected for up to 90 days. However, just because meth has left your system, the withdrawal effects can take longer to diminish as the brain and body recalibrate. 7

Some withdrawal symptoms a person may experience during a comedown from methamphetamine include:

  • Feeling agitated
  • Extreme cravings for more of the drug
  • Dysphoria
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Severe anxiety and depression
  • Psychosis

Frequent use of Ice can lead to addiction and dependence. The withdrawal symptoms a person experiences will be different to a comedown should they be addicted. The heavier and more prologued the use of Crystal methamphetamine, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be.

Ice Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Changes in appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Psychosis
  • Excessive sweating
  • Overwhelming cravings for Crystal methamphetamine 6

ICE abuse, dependence and addiction

Frequent abuse of ICE leads to drug tolerance. When this happens, the drug won’t work as effectively as it used to. When a person develops tolerance to Crystal Methamphetamine, they will need to take larger amounts with increased frequency in order to feel the desired effects. The come-down effects of the drug will also occur more frequently.

Drug tolerance often leads to drug dependence, whereby a person will need a constant amount of the drug in their bloodstream just to avoid ICE withdrawal.

Many users who have an ICE addiction find it incredibly difficult to stop. This is mainly due to the substantial changes in the brain’s neurological pathways. They will experience very strong cravings for crystal meth, along with a whole host of other unpleasant and pronounced withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, the brain stops producing its own feel-good chemicals as it becomes dependent on the false instigation of dopamine through repeated use of crystal meth.

As you will see from the above brain scan, it takes approximately 14 months for an Ice abuser’s brain to start producing its own dopamine (highlighted in red) organically. This is why comprehensive treatment and long-term treatment are optimally beneficial.

ICE addiction occurs when a person is both physically and psychologically dependent. Crystal methamphetamine carries a particularly high risk of addiction to its users. Addiction to this stimulant drug is arguably one of the most difficult to break. Not just because of the hold that this drug has over them, but also because of the situations users often find themselves in. 1,2, 8

Treatment for Crystal Methamphetamine (Ice) addiction

Whilst Crystal methamphetamine addiction is one of the more complex addictions to treat, it is entirely possible with the right help and support.

Chronic use of Ice rewires the brain’s pathways, causing long-lasting changes. However, the longer a person remains completely abstinent from Ice, the more the brain repairs itself.

In order for a person addicted to Ice to recover, they must first cease using the drug. This can prove extremely difficult, and for many, a period within an inpatient rehabilitation treatment centre is very beneficial.

Inpatient treatment allows the person the time and space to get through Ice withdrawals with the assistance of medication and nursing supervision. Once the detox part is over, they can then immediately engage in a bespoke rehabilitation programme that will address their thinking and behaviours as well as treat any underlying conditions such as PTSD or depression.

Our CQC detox and rehab centres take a holistic approach to treatment. This means that we treat each patient physically, mentally, emotionally, occupationally, socially and spiritually. We feel this is important because if any aspect of a person is untreated when leaving the treatment environment, and they will be highly susceptible to relapse.

Just as important as the inpatient treatment we provide is the aftercare and follow-up. This provides our patients with a vital anchor in their recovery, as well as a safe space to return to and discuss any concerns they have.

Please call our friendly, trained advisors today if you or a loved one need help with an ICE addiction. We are waiting to hear your story to plan the best way forward to get you the urgent professional help you need.


  1. Ice (Crystal Methamphetamine):
  2. Metha addiction, symptoms and treatment:
  3. U.S. Department of Justice Archive. Meth Awareness.
  4. Hunt, D., Kuck, S., and Truitt, L. (2006). Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned. U.S. Department of Justice.
  5. Recent Methamphetamine Use is Associated with Increased Rectal Mucosal Inflammatory Cytokines Regardless of HIV-1 Serostatus:
  6. Methamphetamine(:
  7. How Long Does Meth Stay in Your System?
  8. Ice (crystal meth)
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