Symptoms Of Methamphetamine Exposure

Methamphetamine exposure is a concern for people who live or work in the vicinity of an active or former meth lab. Learning to recognize the signs will allow you to get help to avoid permanent damage.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Accidental methamphetamine exposure is relatively uncommon, but it is a public health concern.

If you have been exposed to residual meth without your knowledge, you may experience a variety of health problems that are similar to symptoms of meth use.

The most common effects of meth exposure include:

  • respiratory issues similar to asthma
  • behavioral changes
  • headache
  • eye irritation
  • skin irritation
  • rapid heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • increased body temperature
  • nausea

What Are The Symptoms Of Being Exposed To Meth?

If you have been unknowingly exposed to meth, you may develop symptoms depending on the level of exposure.

Low-level exposure to meth may cause:

  • headache
  • shortness of breath
  • eye irritation
  • skin irritation

Higher levels of meth exposure may cause symptoms more typical of meth use, such as:

  • chest pain
  • weight loss
  • dizziness
  • increased heart rate
  • hyperactivity

How People May Be Exposed To Meth

The risk of accidental exposure to meth is highest among law enforcement and those who tend to spend time near people who use meth. There are also case studies outside of these groups.

Meth Residue

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation states that there is virtually no risk of meth residue resulting from typical meth use.

The only areas with a real risk of accidental exposure to residue are former meth labs that have not been properly decontaminated.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a very real concern with crystal methamphetamine.

The data is far from complete, but the existing research does indicate that all forms of second-hand meth smoke should be avoided.

Evidence suggests that the effects of random second-hand meth smoke exposure are unlikely to cause permanent damage.

Prolonged exposure as a result of spending time around people who use methamphetamine is more likely to have lasting effects.

Meth Drug Lab Ingredients

Former methamphetamine labs present the highest risk of exposure.

Unless they undergo decontamination to remove residue left by methamphetamine ingredients, the remaining chemical traces can affect new residents.

A case study in Victoria, Australia proved this point. The family of five was living in a home that formerly housed a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory.

The house was not properly cleared prior to their moving in, resulting in chronic exposure. All five family members had detectable levels of methamphetamine in their hair with mild to moderate symptoms.

The youngest child, a boy of 7, developed symptoms consistent with substance abuse.

He developed respiratory issues, lost some cognitive ability, and began showing behavioral changes that were inconsistent with previous testing.

Fortunately, the family did appear to fully recover within three months of leaving their prior home.

Third-Hand Meth Exposure Environments

Third-hand meth exposure in the environment (meth-contaminated air) is concerning if you are living close to a clandestine drug laboratory.

The only way to fully remove the risk is for the lab to be shut down and professionally cleaned for meth residue.

Why Meth Exposure Is Harmful

Meth exposure is harmful because its components have the ability to damage your heart, lungs, and brain. Short-term exposure will not cause permanent damage, but ignoring the signs could.

Toxic Chemicals

Methamphetamine is essentially a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

The manufacture of methamphetamine can include the use of pseudoephedrine, acetone, anhydrous ammonia, ether, red phosphorus, and lithium.

Each of these chemicals can be dangerous on their own. Together, they can cause real damage even in trace amounts.

Corrosive Acids

Hydriodic acid is created using a combination of iodine, water, and red phosphorus. This acid is a key ingredient in high-quality meth.

This acid is also highly corrosive. Exposure to higher levels can burn your eyes, nose, and skin.

Depending on the type of exposure, this acid can also cause internal damage to your mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract.

Long-Term Health Effects Of Methamphetamine Exposure

Prolonged exposure to methamphetamine can have serious long-term health risks. It increases your risk of cancer as well as the risk of damage to all of your major organ systems.

You will likely never experience the high associated with meth.

However, repeated contact with meth residue or secondhand fumes can leave you with many of the same health issues as someone with a meth addiction.

Effects To Major Organ Systems

Damage to your central nervous system can affect your memory, decision-making, and mental health. You may also face permanent damage to your lungs, liver, and kidneys as a result of exposure to this illegal drug.

Reproduction And Childbirth Effects

The damage to your organ systems may even extend to your reproductive system.

The effects of methamphetamine on initial reproductive success are currently understudied, but the effects on a developing fetus are well-known.

If you are exposed to meth while pregnant, there is a risk that your baby will have birth defects.

The danger of developmental issues may extend to babies and young children who come into contact with residual methamphetamine.

Treatment Options For Methamphetamine Abuse

Using meth doesn’t just affect your health. Your drug use has the potential to harm those around you, including close friends, family, and complete strangers.

As hard as it is, the best choice you can make for yourself and for others is to get treatment for methamphetamine use.

Modern treatment programs offer real help that addresses your physical and psychological symptoms to give you the best chance of recovery.

Qualified rehab centers typically offer detox programs, behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, and support groups to ensure that you have the support you need for as long as you need.

Find Drug Treatment Services At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we understand how all-encompassing addiction can be. You may have struggled and made mistakes, but we are here to help you reclaim the person you were before drug use took over your life.

If you’re concerned about how meth abuse could be affecting your loved ones, contact our Massachusetts treatment center today to learn how we can help.

  1. Alcohol and Drug Foundation
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse
  4. National Library of Medicine
  5. Utah Department of Health

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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