Drug and Alcohol

What Does Meth Smell Like?

What does meth smell like? Meth smoking and meth labs have distinct, unpleasant odors. Learn more about this aspect of meth abuse in our blog.

What Does Meth Smell Like?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

March 30, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

Crystal meth continues to be a serious concern for the nation’s healthcare system with many people reporting to the ER due to a meth overdose. A part of the drug abuse pandemic that plagues the US, meth is among the most commonly abused substances.

Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, is a potent stimulant drug that can increase alertness and energy. It was initially developed by scientists as a more effective version of amphetamine. However, the resulting drug turned out to be much stronger than expected and has a high risk of overdose and addiction.

In the United States, meth is classified as a schedule II drug due to its high potential for misuse, but it is legal in certain medical contexts. For example, the medication Desoxyn, which is used to treat ADHD, contains methamphetamine.

Nevertheless, meth abuse is a serious public health problem.

By the Numbers:

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2020, more than 23,000 people died of overdoses from stimulants in the U.S. Methamphetamine was responsible for most of these overdoses.

Understanding Meth Addiction

Every person might show different symptoms of meth abuse. It is hard to clearly identify a meth addiction but yes, meth use comes with some typical traits that have been recorded over the years. The effects of crystal meth can last for 6 to 12 hours, which is longer than the effects of other commonly abused stimulants like cocaine. This longer high can make meth appealing to some users.

However, with prolonged use, the body develops a tolerance to the drug, reducing the intensity of the high and other desired effects, such as increased libido and concentration. This tolerance can cause a person to take larger doses of crystal meth to achieve the same effect, which can lead to addiction over time. Individuals with substance use disorders may use drugs like crystal meth to feel normal or in control again, and in such cases, stopping the use of the abused substance can result in extremely painful meth withdrawal symptoms.

Overview of Risks Associated with Meth Addiction

While the opioid crisis has been widely documented in the mass media, meth addiction seems like an equally serious issue, with thousands falling prey to meth abuse every year. Methamphetamine, or meth, is a synthetic stimulant that is highly addictive and can cause severe health problems, including death. Meth can be taken orally, injected, smoked, or snorted, and is often used in combination with other substances. The use of meth can temporarily create feelings of euphoria, alertness, and energy by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a natural chemical that plays a role in controlling body movements apart from affecting a person feeling motivated or inspired to do something.

Meth causes the release of more dopamine in the brain's reward centers, creating a high that can make someone temporarily perform better at their job or seem energized beyond the usual. This is what causes the person to continue using the drug as a means to experience that high again. Meth not only alters brain function but also speeds up the body's systems to dangerous, sometimes deadly levels, causing increases in blood pressure and heart & respiratory rates.

Long-term use of meth can cause extreme mood disturbances. This is why meth addiction treatment often needs a lot more than withdrawal management, including psychiatric care. Meth-related effects could last for months after having stopped using the substance.

The Different Types of Meth

There are two main forms of methamphetamine:

Meth

Regular meth can be found in the form of pills or white powder.

Crystal Meth

Crystal meth looks like clear or whitish rocks and is sometimes called glass or ice due to its appearance. Crystal meth is usually smoked in a glass pipe and inhaled through the mouth.

Powder

Meth powder can be used in various ways, such as snorting dry powder into the nose with a straw, injecting dissolved powder into the bloodstream, or booty-bumping/boofing by squirting dissolved powder into the rectum with a syringe.

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What Does Meth Smell Like?

Most types of narcotics and addictive substances don't have very strong physical traits like form, shape, or a strong smell. The smell of meth is true to this principle as it is not an easy odor to identify. This also means that you or a family member is likely to struggle with identifying the smell of meth within the home. Some people claim that meth has no real smell because the scent can be very subtle and some individuals describe the scent of meth as sweet. Others have compared the smell of meth to vinegar. These are just some of the common references about what meth smells like.

Because meth can be made with a wide range of chemicals, the smell can vary significantly from one batch to another. Please note that the odor associated with meth is not from the drug itself but from the chemicals used to produce it. If meth has any type of smell, it is likely due to the chemicals retained during the manufacturing process. More common references to the smell of meth hint at a pungent, chemical odor resembling the smell of acetone, anhydrous ammonia, or phosphorus. This is also why some people describe the smell of meth as resembling the smell of different lab chemicals or close to smelling like some of the more common cleaning chemicals found in our homes.

What Does Meth Smell Like when Smoked?

Most people cannot detect the smell of meth right away, confusing it with something else burning around them. This is one of the reasons why meth use at home is not easy to detect.

When crystal meth is smoked, it produces a bit of smoke which is then inhaled to experience the high. The smell of this smoke is referred to as the typical smell of crystal meth. When exposed to a flame and smoked, the chemical odor of crystal meth becomes potent and unique.

Many people describe the smell of meth smoke as resembling the unpleasant smell of burning chemicals. This odor can be quite alarming, and it might make it seem like an electrical device on fire. 

What Do Meth Labs Smell Like?

Meth labs can be set up in various locations, but they are often found in remote areas to avoid easy detection. Meth production can be extremely hazardous, and it is notorious for releasing noxious fumes that can be fatal to some people. Meth manufacturers may wear gas masks and protective gear to avoid exposure while cooking meth. The smell of cooking meth can vary, but it is typically described as being unpleasant.

Some people have compared the smell to that of cat urine also. Other references include resembling the odor of rotten eggs, cleaning chemicals, hospitals, and paint. If you detect unfamiliar or strange smells like these, it is possible that you are in close proximity to an active meth lab. 

  • The sweet smell is produced by chemicals called ethers.

  • The solvent-like smell comes from the use of solvents such as paint thinner.

  • The sharp and pungent smell is due to the use of ingredients like ammonia that resembles the odors of stale urine.

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Hazardous Chemicals Used in Meth Production 

Meth is made from a variety of chemicals, many of which can be extremely dangerous to handle. Some of the chemicals commonly used to manufacture meth include acetone which is found in nail polish remover and paint thinner. Another common meth-production chemical is anhydrous ammonia which is found in cleaners and fertilizers. Similarly, hydrochloric acid which is corrosive and can eat away at flesh is used to make meth. Meth production also uses lithium which is explosive and can cause burns to the skin while red phosphorus found in explosives and is highly flammable is commonly found in meth labs along with sulfuric acid that is commonly used in drain cleaner and toilet cleaning solutions. It is important to note that these chemicals are not only dangerous to those handling them during the manufacturing process but also to anyone who comes into contact with the finished product.

Do People with Meth Addiction Develop a Unique Smell?

Regular crystal meth use can lead to dental problems such as progressive tooth decay along with broken and cracked teeth. Prolonged meth abuse can also lead to chronic gum disease. The deterioration of dental health is a common sign of meth addiction and it often contributes to the person developing a smelly mouth.

When using crystal meth, people often grind or clench their teeth, which can damage their teeth and jaw muscles. The drug also causes dry mouth, which decreases the amount of protective saliva in the mouth, leading to increased tooth decay. Additionally, meth users may crave sugary drinks and neglect their oral hygiene during long periods of euphoria. These factors can lead to severe dental problems, including the loss of teeth. A person using meth regularly can develop a typical, smelly mouth.

Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, 0.9% (or about 2.5 million people) reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months (2021 DT 1.1). Source: 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health*

More About How Methamphetamine Affects the Human Brain

Methamphetamine is associated with causing severe damage to how the mind works. It impacts the levels of dopamine in the brain. This biochemical is crucial for regulating our body movements along with ensuring motivation and emotional reinforcement. Methamphetamine triggers the release of high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain. This creates the high that can be very addictive, creating a desire to repeat the experience.

Prolonged use of methamphetamine also causes more permanent changes in the brain, affecting the manner in which dopamine levels are maintained, leading to reduced coordination and reduced levels of verbal learning. People who use methamphetamine over the long term can suffer from severe changes in the brain’s activity that controls emotions and memory. This explains why many of the emotional and cognitive problems experienced by people who use methamphetamine and why crystal meth addiction treatment often involves mental wellness programs.

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Long-Term Health Risks of Meth Addiction

When people inject methamphetamine, they are at a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These diseases can be transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids that may remain on drug equipment. Methamphetamine use can also impair judgment and decision-making leading to risky behaviors, including unprotected sex, which can also increase the risk of infection.

Methamphetamine use can worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Research indicates that HIV causes more damage to nerve cells and more cognitive problems in people who use methamphetamine than in those who have HIV and do not use the drug.

Chronic methamphetamine use can result in many long-term health problems, even after people stop taking the drug, including permanent damage to the heart & brain, and high blood pressure leading to heart attacks, strokes, and death. The person can also suffer from liver, kidney, and lung damage. Other possible problems resulting from methamphetamine use include anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. The person can develop paranoia, hallucinations, and severe mood disturbances.

The more pronounced psychotic symptoms may persist for months or years after the last instance of meth use. The person might develop intense itching causing skin sores.

Short-Term Effects of Meth Addiction

People assuming that using crystal meth recreationally does not come with a serious threat are mistaken. Taking even small amounts of meth can lead to harmful health effects, and a greater chance of developing a dependency as meth is highly addictive. Short-term meth use symptoms include increased blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing rate, as well as a rapid and irregular heartbeat. Meth use can also cause a loss of appetite, making a person lose weight for no real reason apart from causing disturbed sleep patterns, nausea, and aggressive or violent behavior.

Overdosing on Methamphetamine Is a Real, Fatal Risk

Yes, methamphetamine overdose is possible and it can be deadly. When someone takes an excessive amount of the drug, their body can have a toxic reaction that could lead to near-fatal symptoms or even coma and death. Overdose deaths due to methamphetamine might also involve the use of opioids, especially synthetic opioids that are being abused across the nation. Sometimes, these opioids are consciously consumed with methamphetamine to experience a stronger high.

Mixing depressants like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines with methamphetamine can be dangerous too. Combining alcohol with methamphetamine can increase the euphoric effects of the drug. It can also cause severe anxiety, agitation, and an increased risk of alcohol poisoning. Combining methamphetamine with stimulants like cocaine increases the risk of stroke or a heart attack

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There Is Hope with Meth Addiction: Treatment at the Edge Treatment Center

With evidence-based treatment and support, it is possible to live a life free from methamphetamine addiction. Although there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a means to comprehensively and permanently treat meth addiction, some behavioral therapies have proven to be effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, can help people manage situations that may trigger drug use.

The Edge Treatment Center provides expert treatment for meth addiction and more. To learn how you or a loved one can successfully free themselves from meth addiction, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

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