An update on these powerful stimulants is essential

Amphetamine, methamphetamine, and crystal meth all belong to the same family of substances, the amphetamines. The amphetamines are a group of molecules that all have similar pharmacological effects. The members of this family include amphetamine, methamphetamine (twice as powerful as amphetamine), and MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy).


Amphetamines (also known by street names such as speed, ice or crystal) are major stimulants. They come in the form of tablets, crystals, or powder. They are very often mixed with other substances, and they can be swallowed, snorted, or even smoked.

The amount of amphetamines that users take per day can vary a great deal. It depends, among other things, on the type of amphetamine, the way it is taken, and the particular individual’s usage patterns.


Amphetamines are physical stimulants. They suppress fatigue, increase alertness, cause sensations of intense well-being, and give users the illusion of invincibility. The effects of amphetamines last several hours and resemble those of cocaine.

Inside the brain, amphetamines cause immediate, large increases in the amounts of dopamine and serotonin in the synapses, until the supplies of these two neurotransmitters are exhausted. This process results in disturbances in brain function.

Use of amphetamines can cause malnutrition and prolonged sleeplessness (insomnia), leading to general deterioration, exhaustion, extreme nervousness, and, sometimes, serious psychological problems such as anxiety, agitation, irritability, excitability, panic, mood disorders, psychoses, and paranoid personality disorder. Serious skin problems may also occur, such as major outbreaks of pimples and acne.

When the effects of amphetamines begin to wear off, it can be a difficult experience bringing about symptoms such as clenched jaws, tetany, extreme anxiety, depression, and sometimes the risk of suicide.

Taking amphetamines along with alcohol or other psychoactive substances such as ecstasy (MDMA) increases the risks of neurotoxicity (toxicity affecting the nervous system).



Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant in the amphetamine family. It has very powerful effects on the functioning of the central nervous system, because it is twice as potent as amphetamine.

Methamphetamine is one of a number of substances that are referred to as “club drugs” because they are often consumed at after-hours clubs and at all-night parties known as raves. Other club drugs include ecstasy, GHB, PCP, and ketamine.

Originally, the term “crystal meth” referred to this substance in crystal form only, but now it is used to refer to the same substance in the form of capsules, tablets or powder as well. Crystal meth is another substance in the amphetamine family.

Crystal meth comes in the form of crystals, capsules, tablets or powder. In powder form, it is mainly taken orally and it is usually referred to as “meth” or “speed”. This white, crystalline, and odourless powder dissolves readily in water or alcohol. The form of this drug that is smoked is referred to as crystal meth, ice, crystal, or glass. It consists of clear crystals that can be smoked just like crack cocaine. Crystal meth can also be injected.


The most common ways of taking methamphetamine are orally (in tablets or capsules), by “snorting” (inhaling it through the nose) smoking it in powdered form, or by injecting it intravenously. When it is taken orally, its effects begin after 15 or 20 minutes and can last up to 12 hours or even 24. It is absorbed much faster when snorted, and even faster through intravenous or intrapulmonary route. Its effects are then felt almost instantaneously. It causes an intense euphoria that can feel almost orgasmic, commonly known as a “rush”.

Crystal meth, when snorted or injected, is one of the most powerful psychostimulants available on the illicit drug market. Users feel more attentive, more alert, and more dominant. They quickly become physically and psychologically dependent on this drug. The urge to take more of it becomes a constant preoccupation and, gradually, an obsession that can be quelled only through further episodes of heavy use.

Chronic users typically present a variety of symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression, sometimes including thoughts of suicide. They can also display various psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia, obsessive delusions, hallucinations, and, sometimes, aggressive, violent behaviour. This aggressiveness is caused by the users’ paranoid thoughts and their belief that they are in imminent danger. These psychotic symptoms can persist for months or even years after a person stops using the substance.

Users can also experience prolonged episodes of confusion and cognitive impairment. The number, intensity, duration, and frequency of these episodes generally varies with the intensity and duration of the substance use.

As with other amphetamines, the use of methamphetamine can also cause various physical disorders, depending on the dose and the sensitivity of the user:

  • flushing or pallor
  • dilated pupils (mydriasis)
  • headaches, trembling, shivering
  • dry mouth, persistent unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • loss of appetite, loss of weight
  • abdominal cramps, constipation, or diarrhea
  • faster or heavier breathing
  • cardiovascular problems: rapid heart rate (tachycardia), arrhythmia, hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and damage to blood microvessels in the brain
  • increased sex drive (libido) and loss of inhibition (more rarely, decreased sex drive)
  • temporary impotence, especially in cases of prolonged abuse

In heavy doses, methamphetamine can cause hyperthermia (sometimes very high fever), convulsions, and death.

Interactions with other substances

Methamphetamine interacts mainly with other psychostimulants and with antidepressants. Its interactions with psychostimulants are generally synergistic—the substances’ effects are cumulative or amplify each other, thus increasing the risks of overdose. Taking methamphetamine together with antidepressants can result in dangerous fluctuations in blood pressure. These physiological symptoms may include headaches, convulsions, cardiovascular problems, and also increase the risk of serotonin syndrome which is characterized by a number of the following symptoms: agitation, confusion, irritability, altered consciousness, weakness, muscle rigidity, fever, sweating, shivering, trembling, hypertension, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse.

Amphetamines are major stimulants that come in the form of tablets, crystals or powder Taking amphetamines along with alcohol or other psychoactive substances such as ecstasy (MDMA) increases the risks of neurotoxicity Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant that has powerful effects on the functioning of the central nervous system and a high potential for causing dependence Crystal meth, when snorted or injected, is one of the most powerful psychostimulants available on the illicit drug market Some psychotic symptoms can persist for months or even years after a person stops using the substance In heavy doses, methamphetamine can cause hyperthermia, convulsions, and death


  • According to the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS)1, 6.4% of Canadians aged 15 and older had used amphetamines at least once in their lifetime. That represents over 1,500,000 people.
  • In a field study done at raves in Montreal in 20049, amphetamines were the type of psychoactive substances most commonly used (70.4% of all cases).
  • According to the 2002 national survey Health Behaviour of School-Aged Children4 conducted in Canadian schools, 8% of boys and 5% of girls among Grade 10 students had taken amphetamines during the 12 preceding months.
  • According to a survey conducted in different areas of Canada in 200310, 12.2% of street youth reported that amphetamines (speed, meth, crystal) were the type of substances most commonly used in the last three months.



  • Methamphetamine has been listed in Schedule I of the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act since August 11, 2005.
  • Other amphetamines are listed in Schedule III of this same Act.
  • Unless authorized, possession, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, production, importing, and exporting of amphetamines, as well as possession for the purpose of exporting are illegal.