The negative effects of methamphetamine are exaggerated

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Crystal is the most dangerous drug in the world. Many people become addicted the first time they take it. In the interview, Roland Härtel-Petri from the Bayreuth District Hospital explains why the substance is so dangerous.

Status: 10/30/2012 | archive Mr. Härtel-Petri, crystal seems to be a big trend in the drug scene at the moment. Why is that?

Roland Härtel-Petri: Crystal has been widespread in Upper Franconia since 1997, and nationwide since 2009. The big problem is that methamphetamine - often called crystal, meth, or C - is a very addictive drug. After cannabis, meth is the second most widely used illicit drug in the world. Since the liberalization of the drug law in the Czech Republic, prices have also fallen dramatically. Methamphetamine is now also appearing in social circles that have never had any drug contact before. Which people try Crystal?

Roland Härtel-Petri: Younger people in particular are very susceptible to methamphetamine. What is new at Crystal is that more and more people between the ages of 30 and 45 are becoming dependent: These include single mothers who come into contact with the drug through a new partner and take it in order to have more fun with sex. Other women take methamphetamines to lose weight. Teenagers and college students are at risk because they may have tried other drugs and don't believe crystal is much more dangerous. Is crystal a "gateway drug" or do other addicts switch to crystal?

Roland Härtel-Petri: We see a lot of patients who initially consume nicotine or alcohol. In the case of illegal consumption, however, crystal is always the gateway drug before smoking weed. On the other hand, there are also long-time heroin addicts who try crystal and then switch. This also coincides with studies from other parts of the world. What is so dangerous about Crystal?

Roland Härtel-Petri: Crystal is on the market in a highly pure form. Because methamphetamine also causes less palpitations than "normal" amphetamine, it is often taken in higher doses. As a result, the high concentrations cause the nerve cells in the brain to die off. Because of this, the recovery period for crystal addicts is much longer. Because of this, there is a higher risk of relapse. What do you understand by the recovery phase?

Roland Härtel-Petri: After taking a drug, the body's own substances are released that cause feelings of happiness and euphoria. When the effects of the drug wear off, the body's own stores for these messenger substances such as dopamine are empty: You fall into a deep hole: you are tired, you don't feel like it anymore, you feel small and ugly. Initially, the recovery phase, i.e. the time until the body "functions normally" again, lasts three or four days, or several months if taken regularly. In the case of crystal, however, this takes one to two years after frequent consumption, since the extensions of the nerve cells in the brain, the so-called axons, have died and first have to regenerate. What are the axons important for?

Roland Härtel-Petri: The axons pass the nerve impulses on, for example in the reward / motivation system, so that what you do is a little fun. With Crystal, everything is fun, even senseless activities like a ballpoint pen can be dismantled for hours. In the withdrawal and recovery phase of the nerve cells, however, a drug user can hardly muster up the necessities of daily life. The environment notices this supposed "laziness", this indolence, from which those affected usually suffer themselves, very quickly. Justified conflicts in school, training and the family are the result. How is Crystal taken?

Roland Härtel-Petri. The form of administration is a very big problem with Crystal: The classic amphetamine was taken in tablet form with very small amounts of active ingredient. Crystal is sniffed or smoked. Any substance that comes directly into the brain via the mucous membranes leads to a much faster activation of the reward system and makes you addicted much more quickly. This is why smoking, for example, is so addictive to cigarettes. The "reward" for taking is there immediately. Crystal can also be consumed intravenously. However, that is a sign of severe dependency. Why is the spread of the drug so difficult to control?

Roland Härtel-Petri: As far as I, as a doctor, can judge and my patients tell me, consumers are no longer afraid of buying the substance in the Czech Republic. First-time consumers often drive over as a "weekend gag" to get the stuff. In the Czech Republic, possession of up to two grams of methamphetamine is only an administrative offense. And whoever has taken Crystal once is unfortunately too often addicted. How many people really get addicted the first time?

Roland Härtel-Petri: I am appalled by how many of my patients say they became addicted the first time. In the case of other drugs, many patients initially used at least subjectively controlled drugs. When it comes to methamphetamine, many people want to quit early on and simply can't do it. There are just substances that you shouldn't experiment with, even as an adult. That is why I consider the American project "Meth - not even once" to be very useful. Why is crystal addicting so quickly?

Roland Härtel-Petri: When people sniff or smoke crystal, they have so much methamphetamine in their brain that they never forget that feeling of happiness. After that, however, it quickly comes to grief. And it is precisely this contrast that is particularly strong. Anyone who smokes cigarettes immediately feels sick. Anyone who drinks a lot has to vomit immediately. These negative consequences then ensure moderate consumption. However, there is no such mechanism with Crystal. What are the physical consequences of consuming methamphetamine?

Roland Härtel-Petri: The physical consequences are not so much of a problem for us. But it is the consequences that can be impressively shown in the media. If you take methamphetamine frequently, large pimples develop all over your body. These heal after a few weeks without any consequences, only sometimes there are scars. Teeth fall out, but drug addicts also have health insurance in Germany. The "Methmouth" actually exists in the USA, the images of the "Meth - not even once" project are not exaggerated. So the psychological consequences are the bigger problem?

Roland Härtel-Petri: Addicts become so psychotic that they attack their best friends with an ax or other weapon because they think they are monsters. Patients have confirmed to me that this is the reality. Every one of my patients knows this situation. Those who have been dependent on methamphetamine for a long time and are not looking for help often end up in a psychiatric institution. But then at least help is finally available in psychiatry. It would be nicer if the drug users would go to the addiction counseling in good time. The addiction is treatable, successful.

The interview was conducted by Franz Engeser.

additional Information

Roland Härtel-Petri is Senior Consultant in the Department of Clinical Addiction Medicine at the Bayreuth District Hospital and has been the head of the Hochstadt am Main Addiction Clinic for many years. He has been looking after amphetamine and methamphetamine addicts for over 15 years and is a sought-after speaker at specialist congresses.

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