When a person takes in alcohol or heroin, the body immediately sets to work to neutralize the drug and return the body’s systems to normal. As a consequence, these drugs spend a relatively short period of time in the body. When they’re attacked on many fronts by the body’s defenses, they’re quickly metabolized and removed from the body altogether. Meth, on the other hand, is not quickly metabolized. In fact, it can stay in the body for an incredibly long period of time. See Related: Crystal Meth Addiction
The Meth Path
People who smoke meth, or inject it directly into their veins, often report feeling a fleeting and intense burst of pleasure. This bloom is quick to fade, however, and in some users, it can only last for mere minutes. In order to prolong the sensation, some users take meth on a binge basis. They take in more meth when the rush fades, adding meth to their systems before the first batch has been metabolized. In short, they may flood their bodies with the drug.
As meth moves through the body, some molecules are transformed into pure amphetamine, which functions the same way on the nervous system as does meth. This helps to prolong the sensations the user is feeling, but it causes problems for the body, as it now has two separate chemicals to identify and remove. If users combine meth with yet another drug like cocaine, the transformation process is even more difficult for the body to complete.
Meth eventually makes its way to the liver, where it is further broken down, and then it moves to the kidneys and out of the body through the urine. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, between 30 and 50 percent of an oral dose of methamphetamine is completely unchanged when it leaves the body. When a user takes meth intravenously, about 45 percent is excreted in an unchanged form. This means that the body is simply unable to process all the meth it has been given. It just spits the meth right back out.
In a typical person, meth levels peak in the bloodstream about 10 hours after the drugs have been taken. It can remain in the body for a spectacularly long time, however. In one study published in the journal Clinical Chemistry, meth was detected at low levels in the urine of users up to 34 hours after the last dose. There have been reports, however, of meth appearing in urine screenings of users for up to nine days. People who metabolize meth slowly may have:
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Other drugs present in their bodies
- Low acid in the urine
All of these factors can play a role in slowing down the speed with which the meth is broken down and/or removed from the body. In addition, taking very high doses of the drug can also cause meth to remain in the body for an extended period of time. The body can only process so much of the drug at one time, and by taking a very large dose of meth, users are putting their systems into overdrive, asking them to do more work than they are equipped to do. This could also cause delays in metabolizing meth.