crystal methMethamphetamine has had a lot of misinformation spread about it. Below are some myths (basically untrue) and misconceptions (based on facts, but with incomplete information) about meth, along with the real facts about each point.

MISCONCEPTIONS

Meth is a drug for bikers and hillbillies: This one has a grain of truth to it, but there’s definitely more to the story. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, American biker gangs controlled most of the meth in the country. They did indeed distribute it to people in rural areas. Rural clients could be easily delivered to by bikers and could afford meth when they didn’t have the money for more expensive, urban drugs like cocaine. However, in recent years meth use has spread far beyond this demographic. It’s now used by high school and college students, young unemployed Americans, and white-collar workers –and its popularity continues to spread.

Meth makes “meth mouth”: This is an interesting one. Meth mouth, in which the teeth rot swiftly away, is one of the most distinctive and famous symptoms of methamphetamine abuse. However, as a neuropsychopharmacologist (someone who studies the effects of drugs on both the brain/nervous system and the mind) named Carl Hart explains, it may not be the meth creating this result—at least not directly.

Other amphetamine-based medications such as Adderall (primarily made of dextroamphetamine) are made of very similar chemicals which also produce dry mouth and euphoria, dependence and increased blood pressure. Yet the prescription medications don’t rot the teeth of their users. The full truth is that these harmful changes in meth users’ appearance are caused just as much by their lifestyle changes like maintaining poor hygiene, not sleeping and subsisting on sugary, non-nutritious food for prolonged periods.

…Okay, so the meth lifestyle causes meth mouth.

Meth causes holes in the brain: While an MRI of a meth user’s brain will show darkened spots that look like holes, the brain matter is still there. However, this one isn’t filed under “myth” because those areas of brain are inactive—meaning they may as well be holes.

MYTHS

(The counter-myth to the above) In the long term, meth doesn’t affect the mind of its user: Meth causes the release of more dopamine (1,200 units) than almost anything else. For perspective, compare this to cocaine, which releases about 350 units. This much dopamine swirling through the brain eventually shorts out the pleasure centers and leaves the meth addict literally unable to experience pleasure. While the brain can eventually recover from this (if meth use is stopped) studies have shown that the recovering addict may never fully heal the damage to his judgment, concentration, and motor skills.

Meth use is an epidemic: Methamphetamine isn’t as broadly used as the media would have you believe. At its most popular, meth has never been used by much more than a million people at a time. Compare this to the 2.5 million on cocaine, 4.4 million illegally using prescription opioids, or 15 million marijuana users in the same time period.

Meth is the worst drug around: The NY Times ran a story in which a doctor called meth “the most malignant, addictive drug known to mankind.” This is ridiculous. A few years ago, bath salts were made famous for causing a man to chew off another human’s face – and yet people still take them. That is clearly worse than the rotten teeth and physical decline of a meth user (and arguably worse even than the abscess-covered, emaciated body of a heroin injecter).

Meth addiction is untreatable: Meth has a reputation for being so addictive, it can snag the user in just one dose. (This is the basis of the “Not even once” anti-meth information campaign.) Many people think that once you’re hooked, you’re doomed—there’s no getting off the drug once it has its teeth in you. Luckily, this just isn’t true. The average relapse rate for all drugs is between 25% and 50%. There are meth treatment programs with success rates happily within this window—like the Methamphetamine Treatment Project, which has 60% of patients still clean a month after they finish rehab.