Crystal produces a whole range of physiological and psychological effects. To better understand why a health check-up is important, here is the low-down on what crystal actually does once it’s in your brain and why, for some people, it can become such an alluring drug.
Crystal and your brain
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. They are released by nerve fibres to enable signals to travel from nerves to their targets such as other nerves, muscle fibres and other structures. Because nerves aren’t physically connected to their targets nerve signals need to ‘jump’ across a gap (called the synapse or junction) that sits between the nerve and the other structure. In order to get the signal to its target, a neurotransmitter is released into this gap (called the synaptic cleft) enabling signal transfer.
Crystal produces its psychological and physiological effects by acting on nerves that secrete particular types of neurotransmitters known as catecholamines - dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. Catecholamines play a key role in regulating heart rate and blood pressure.
Because crystal closely resembles these catecholamine neurotransmitters it gets absorbed by the neurons (brain nerves), causing these neurons to release abnormally large amounts of dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. What you get is an overstimulation of your organs, muscles and nerves - your heart rate and blood pressure increase; your energy levels increase and you feel awake; and your appetite suppresses so you don’t feel hungry. To give you an idea of how and why crystal impacts on your mind and body, here are a couple of crystal related affects, explained:
Increased blood pressure. Remember, noradrenaline regulates your heart and attention and underlies your body’s ‘flight or fight’ response. The increased level of noradrenaline released when you take crystal causes your heart to beat faster and stronger which in turn raises your blood pressure and body temperature to potentially dangerously high levels. These effects are more pronounced when you mix crystal with alcohol or other psychostimulants such as cocaine or ecstasy.
Anxiety and depression. Overtime, your brain stops being able to produce enough dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters on its own. A serotonin imbalance can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety (remembering that serotonin is responsible for regulating mood). The come-down that you feel after a crystal binge is partly due to the depleted serotonin levels.
Most, if not all, crystal users know what a crystal come-down feels like. A whole range of things can happen when you are coming down off crystal with symptoms varying from person to person, and dependant on how much you’ve taken, how often you take it and whether you’ve been taking other drugs. Here are some signs of a crystal come-down:
Feeling anxious (stimulant-induced anxiety)
Panic attacks (feeling anxious AND not being able to take in enough air)
Feeling sad or depressed
Unable to sleep
Lack of motivation
Intense cravings for crystal
How to reduce the severity and length of a come-down
You can’t avoid a come-down but there are ways you can reduce the length and intensity of a come-down. Here are some helpful tips:
Rehydrate. Sounds obvious, but chances are your body is dehydrated after a night (or two) on crystal. Get your electrolytes back up by drinking plenty of fluids and eating fruit. Fact: coconut water has more electrolytes than water and most energy drinks. It also has high levels of potassium an essential mineral in maintaining your electrolyte balance.
Eat. When was the last time you ate? Most likely before you partied on crystal. You may not feel like eating immediately after your big weekend, however eating a protein and carbohydrate enriched meal can do wonders for your energy levels, mood and motivation. If you know you’re going to have a big weekend, be prepared: don’t go home to an empty fridge! Fact: glucose is the main source of energy for our brains.
Sleep. Sleep is crucial for maintaining your health and wellbeing. Getting sleep after a big night or weekend enables your brain, muscles, blood vessels and heart to repair and function normally again. Research suggests that sleep plays a crucial role in mood, attention and decision making.
If any of these symptoms persist and you feel like your come-down is lasting for longer than usual, catch up with doctor.
Concerned about frequency and amount you are using?
Depending upon how long, how much and how frequently you have used crystal you may find it difficult to stop or reduce your use. There can be both physical and psychological reasons for this.
• Physically, your body may now need crystal to keep functioning (also called dependence) or you may feel that you need to use more crystal to counter the effects of the use itself (e.g. you take crystal to get to work because you’re tired from being awake all weekend).
• Psychologically, you may feel that you’re more confident when using, that sex is better or you’ve got more energy. Life without crystal may seem less interesting or exciting.
Life on crystal can seem very intense and create vivid thoughts and memories about where and when you used. These memories and thoughts are called triggers. A significant part of stopping or quitting is learning how to deal with dependence and triggers. They are automatic and inevitable but there are ways that you can control them.
Remember…think of quitting or reducing as a process rather than an event. Do what feels right for you and make changes where you can. Most of all don’t give up on your attempts to quit or reduce your use, you can do it and there are people and services that can help you.
If you’re concerned about the amount or frequency of your crystal use you can speak to a doctor about it or make an appointment at S-Check Clinic for a FREE and CONFIDENTIAL health check-up or contact ACON.
Crystal and your body
Heart and Circulatory System
Crystal can cause heart attacks and strokes. Research suggests that crystal can be cardiotoxic. Crystal increases your heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature and can potentially lead to irregular heartbeat, enlarged heart, increased risk of heart attack (myocardial infarction), strokes and vascular disease. Vascular disease is an umbrella term for any condition that affects your circulatory system. If you have an underlying or pre-existing condition, using crystal could potentially compound the issue.
The best thing to do is to stay on top of your health and know your body. When was the last time you went to the doctor for a general health check-up? Telling a health professional about your stimulant use when you get a health check is important as it enables them to carry out the appropriate tests and provide you with important information to reduce potential harms from taking stimulants. And
remember: you don’t need to have the one doctor for all your health
concerns. If you’re worried about disclosing your drug or sex practices to your regular GP, make an appointment with a recommended LGBTI friendly doctor or St Vincent’s free and discreet stimulant check-up clinic, S-Check.
Dental and Oral
We’ve all heard of the term ‘meth mouth’ and seen graphic ‘before and after’ shots of crystal user’s mouths; although these are very extreme cases of deteriorating dental and oral health, if you’re using crystal it’s good to be mindful of how and why crystal affects your dental health. It’s quite common to throw away your daily oral hygiene routines like brushing and flossing when you’re partying over a number of days on crystal – occasionally, this may not have a huge impact on your dental health, however, over time poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. In addition, crystal (and other stimulants) causes dry mouth which can decrease the ph. (increase the acid) level in your mouth. This combined with lack of adequate amounts of hydration can lead to a depletion of minerals in your teeth causing weakened enamel which can lead to cavities. Some people might drink a lot of sugary drinks: drink water not soft drink. If you know you’re going to be having a crystal binge weekend, remember to pack some chewing gum which stimulates the production of saliva and better yet, a toothbrush!
If you inject, know how to protect yourself and from hepatitis C, HIV and other issues associated with injecting such as abscesses and endocarditis. To check your injecting technique or get some tips on safer injecting, is a good place to visit. You can also talk to ACON Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) or NSW Users and AIDS Association (NUUA), a peer led practical support, education and information organisation for illicit drug users.
Remember, NSPs in NSW do not have limits on how much equipment you can take, make sure that you have more than enough equipment for you and others that you might be using with. Make using sterile equipment a priority and use your own tourniquets or other injecting equipment.
Mind and Body
Dopamine is involved in behaviour reinforcement, reward, motivation, motor function and coordination. No other substance increases dopamine levels to the extent that crystal does (up to 10 times more!).
Serotonin is a central nervous system neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of sleep, mood, and appetite.
Noradrenaline is involved in mediating sleep and wakefulness, eating behaviour and attention. Additionally it’s a stress hormone released by your adrenal glands that regulates your sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for regulating your body’s ‘flight or fight’ response.