What is ice?
Ice (crystal methamphetamine) is a is a high-purity crystalline form of methamphetamine that functions as a stimulant on the body’s brain and nervous system, meaning that it speeds up the messages that are travelling from the brain to the body. Compared to other forms of methamphetamine (i.e., speed or base), ice is considered the strongest form, making it more addictive and more likely to have harmful side effects compared to other forms of methamphetamine.
Other terms for ice: Glass, shabu, crystal, crystal meth, shard, puff, p.
Ice is a synthetic drug manufactured from a range of products including common household chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs. Ice will normally come as chunky, small, colourless and odourless crystals. However, depending on how it is cut, ice can also come in a white or brownish crystalline powder with a bitter taste and strong smell. Given that ice is an illegal drug, there are no controls on how it is manufactured, which can result in the inclusion of harmful or unknown ingredients. This impacts the purity of the drug and makes its effects on the body even more unpredictable.
Ice is generally smoked or injected as the effects of the drug can be experienced rapidly (e.g., within 3 to 5 seconds). It can also be swallowed, smoked with other drugs (i.e., cannabis, snow cones), snorted, and heated on aluminium foil with vapours inhaled (chase).
How do you know if ice is becoming a problem?
In comparison to other forms of methamphetamine, ice can result in stronger and longer lasting highs for a user and has more serious effects both during (i.e., in the short-term) and after (i.e., in the 'come-down') use. Ice is therefore regarded as highly addictive and having the greatest potential for a person to become dependent and experience long-term physical and mental health effects. There is no safe level of ice use.
If you or someone you know begins to feel the urge to use ice to get through everyday activities such as study, socialising and work, this can be a warning sign of ice dependency. Some other signs of ice dependency include:
- Needing higher doses of ice to get the same effect.
- Experiencing intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Overlooking work, personal life or friends and family to use ice.
- Spending a lot of time securing, using or recovering from ice use.
- Unsuccessful efforts to cut down ice use.
- Engaging in criminal activities such as theft to secure money to buy ice.
How does ice make you feel?
Irrespective of the manner in which an individual ingests ice (i.e., smoke, inject, oral use), once it travels to the brain, it triggers the circulation of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which produce a rapid and deeply pleasurable effect on the user. These three chemicals are common in the human body as they are responsible for making us feel excited or alert when we engage in interesting and enjoyable activities (i.e., eating food). However, overloading the body with these chemicals can damage how these chemicals are produced and absorbed into the body, which can lead to long-term complications.
The effects of ice use may vary based on different individuals' health levels, body type, and the amount taken, as well as how frequently is it consumed and whether it is used in combination with other drugs. As a result, the effects of ice and its expected outcomes should not be based on someone else’s experience. However, the effects of ice are rapid and can remain in one's system for up to 12 hours. It can also impede sleep patterns for days following use.
Some of the short-term effects of using ice include:
- Feelings of happiness and confidence.
- Increased energy and awareness.
- Reduced appetite.
- Rapid heart rate and breathing.
- Enlarged pupils.
- Dry mouth.
- Increased sex drive.
- Itching and scratching.
- Grinding teeth.
- Excessive sweating.
Some of the risks associated with injecting ice and sharing needles with other ice users include:
- Vein damage.
- Hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis C.
- HIV and AIDS infection.
The ‘come-down’ effects of ice use may take several days, with the following effects commonly experienced during this time:
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Headaches and dizziness.
- Blurred vision.
- Irritability and feeling down.
- Hallucinations, paranoia and confusion.
It is important to be aware that the use of depressant drugs (i.e., alcohol or cannabis) as a way to reduce the effects of an ice come-down may result in a cycle of dependence for all of the drugs that are used.
Some of the long-term effects of using ice can include:
- Damage to nasal passages.
- Increased nose bleeds.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Extreme weight loss.
- Needing more ice to get the same effects.
- Psychological effects such anxiety, depression, and paranoia.
- Drug-induced psychosis (symptoms similar to schizophrenia – including hallucinations and altered perceptions).
- Drug dependence.
- Loss of focus.
- Risky or inappropriate behaviour.
- Heart and kidney problems.
- Increased risk of stroke.
- Muscle stiffness.
- Increased colds and flu.
- Dental problems.
- Persistent dry mouth.
- Financial and work-related problems.
- Relationship breakdowns.
What should you do in the case of harmful ice use or an overdose?
Please seek medical attention immediately if you or your friends experience any harmful effects of ice use (i.e., haven taken a large amount or strong batch). Phone Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance immediately and tell the operator that there has been an overdose.
If you have taken a large amount of ice and experience negative side effects...
If you are calling about your own use, do not try to hide the fact that you have taken ice – be completely honest about the amount taken and how recently it was used. Whilst waiting for emergency services, immediately inform a friend or family member who can support you during this time.
Some signs of overdose to be aware of include:
- Racing heartbeat.
- Severe chest pains.
- Sudden and severe headache.
- Breathing problems.
- Extreme confusion, clumsiness or agitation.
- Stroke or heart attack.
- Uncontrollable jerking/fits.
If someone you know has taken a large amount of ice and is experiencing negative side effects...
Fast action could save someone’s life. You can help them by phoning Triple Zero (000) for emergency services and informing them how long ago the person you are with took ice, as well as how much was consumed and what form it was in. Try to find out if the person has taken other drugs (including alcohol) as this can increase the risk of serious complications. The quicker and more accurate the information that is passed on, the easier it is to help someone experiencing adverse effects of ice. The priority is making sure the person gets the right help immediately in an emergency. Stay with the person and call another friend or family member for assistance immediately. Place the person on their side in a recovery position to prevent risks of choking until emergency services arrive.
How can you reduce the risks associated with ice use?
Dependence of any kind can make people feel anxious or scared about giving up using, which can result in the cycle continuing. The best way to reduce the risks associated with ice use and dependence and to begin the road to recovery is to reach out and ask for help from medical professionals.
Giving up ice can be challenging, as the body and the brain have to adjust to functioning without the drug. Withdrawal and physical detox symptoms can be unpleasant, which may result in strong temptations to use ice again to avoid these symptoms and feel a sense of being able to get through the day.
Symptoms will begin lessening after the first week of no use and in most cases, disappear after four weeks. Withdrawal symptoms may differ from person to person and range from mild to severe. They can include:
- Intense cravings for ice.
- Aches and pains.
- Disrupted sleep patterns and nightmares.
- Increased appetite.
- Confusion and irritability.
- Loss of motivation.
- Paranoia and hallucinations.
- Anxiety and depression.
It is important to know that relapse is common as individuals navigate the road to recovery. Acknowledging that relapse is not a failure and that recovery is challenging is a great approach to take. Taking each day as it comes is important as there are situations in which withdrawal symptoms may persist for over twelve months and also periods of time in which the desire to use ice again exists. It can take a long time for a person to feel normal and learn to surf the urges that may arise due to physical, mental and social cues linked with previous ice use and dependence. Remember, recovery is challenging but never impossible.
It is prohibited to possess, supply, manufacture and attempt to drive or supervise learner drivers under the influence of ice in Australia. In most areas of Australia, it is also illegal to use and/or have in your possession tools (i.e., pipes, needles and syringes) that are used to consume ice.
Many people are unaware that whilst they may not feel the effects of ice, it may still be present in their system and can consequently be charged with driving under the influence of an illicit drug. Police have the power to use a random roadside drug test to check for ice and other illicit substances that may be present in an individual’s system. Driving or supervising a learner driver with the presence of ice in your system is a serious criminal offence.
The legal consequences associated with ice can vary depending on the seriousness of the drug offence and the personal circumstances of the individual charged. Penalties may include fines, rehabilitation and drug treatment and education program orders, as well as disqualification from driving, imprisonment and permanent criminal records. Should a criminal conviction occur, this may result in negative consequences for an individual’s employment and social circumstances (i.e., travel bans). The information presented here is an overview of the legal consequences associated with ice and should not be used as comprehensive legal advice for drug offences.
Where can you get help for your ice use?
If ice is becoming a problem for you or someone you know and you would like to connect with a real person for advice on what to do next, call the Alcohol & Drug Foundation Information Line on 1300 858 584.
You can also reach out to other services for additional information and resources about crystal methamphetamine (ice) by clicking below: