Summary

  • Ice (crystal methamphetamine) is a drug that stimulates the brain and nervous system, and is highly addictive.
  • Dependence on ice means that you need the drug to help you go about your everyday activities.
  • Using other drugs to cope with ‘coming down’ from ice can lead to dependence on those drugs too.
  • Victoria has treatment options to support people with ice dependence – including residential and community-based services.
  • There is no safe level of ice use – harmful reactions may include ice psychosis, and unpredictable or violent behaviour.

What is ice?

Ice is a drug that stimulates the brain and nervous system. It is a type of amphetamine that is crystalline in appearance. It is also known as crystal methamphetamine, crystal meth, glass, shards and puff.

Compared to other forms of amphetamines (such as speed or base), ice is the strongest form of methamphetamine.

Ice is manufactured from a range of base products, including common pharmaceutical drugs and household chemicals. Because of its illegal status, ice is made in uncontrolled ways and may include unknown or harmful ingredients.

Ice usually comes as small crystals. Other forms are a white or brown powder that has a strong smell and bitter taste.

How is ice used?

Ice is generally smoked or injected and the effects can be felt almost immediately. Depending on how it is used, effects usually start:

  • smoked (immediate)
  • injected (15 to 30 seconds)
  • snorted (3 to 5 minutes)
  • swallowed (15 to 20 minutes)

Although the effects of ice usually last up to 12 hours, sleep problems can occur for a few days after use.

Ice is highly addictive and can cause ‘ice psychosis’ in some people, which can result in unpredictable and violent behaviour.

How ice affects the body

There is no safe level of ice use. Any drug use is risky, and effects can vary from person to person and depend on factors such as:

  • Amount and strength of the dose.
  • Physical make-up and state of mind.
  • Response to the drug (for example, a first-time user may experience different effects to someone who has used it before).
  • Whether it has been mixed with other drugs.

Short-term effects of ice

 Ice acts rapidly and produces effects such as:

  • enlarged pupils and dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • feelings of pleasure and confidence
  • teeth grinding
  • increased energy
  • increased sex drive (libido)
  • itching and scratching
  • rapid heart rate and breathing
  • reduced appetite
  • nosebleeds and damage to the nasal passage (from snorting).

Injecting ice and sharing needles increases your risk of:

‘Coming down’ from ice

‘Coming down’ from ice can take several days and effects include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • exhaustion
  • feeling down or low
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • paranoia, hallucinations and confusion.

Using other drugs (such as benzodiazepines, cannabis and opioids) to cope with coming down from ice may lead to a  cycle of dependence where someone becomes reliant on all the drugs they use.

Symptoms of ice overdose

Ice overdose may occur if you:

  • take a strong batch
  • use a large amount of ice
  • mix ice with other drugs – including over-the-counter and prescribed medications, alcohol, heroin.

A drug overdose is a medical emergency. You can still be in danger even if not all overdose symptoms are present.

Symptoms of ice overdose may include:

  • racing heart and chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • fits or uncontrolled jerking
  • agitation and confusion
  • severe headache
  • passing out or unconsciousness .

Ice overdose can lead to stroke, heart attack and death. Fast action could save someone’s life.

If you suspect an ice overdose, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.

Emergency first-aid for ice overdose

Emergency responses for a suspected drug overdose are:

  • Always dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance (ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police).
  • Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives.
  • Place the person on their side in the recovery position – they could be at risk of choking on their own vomit.
  • If the person starts vomiting, make sure they can still breathe – keep their airway clear.
  • Give ambulance officers as much information as you can (including what drugs they have taken and how much).
  • If the drug came in a packet, give it to the ambulance officers.

Long-term effects of ice

Long-term use of ice can cause symptoms such as:

  • breathing difficulties
  • trouble concentrating
  • dry mouth and dental problems
  • regular viral infections – colds or flu
  • restless sleep
  • stiff muscles
  • weight loss.

Long-term use can increase your risk of:

  • depression and anxiety
  • drug dependence
  • financial, work and relationship problems
  • heart and kidney problems
  • ice psychosis – paranoia, hallucinations and unpredictable or violent behaviour
  • stroke.

If you become dependent on ice, you may need to take more to get the same effect. You may also need ice just to get through everyday activities such as work, study or socialising.

Withdrawal from ice

If you have been using ice for a long time, giving up can be a challenge. Your body and mind will need to adjust to functioning without the drug.

If you decide to stop or cut down your ice use, you may experience some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These usually occur at the start and settle after a week. Most withdrawal symptoms disappear after 4 weeks.

Symptoms of ice withdrawal include:

  • aches and pains
  • confusion and irritability
  • depression and anxiety
  • exhaustion
  • increased appetite
  • intense cravings for ice
  • paranoia
  • restless sleep and nightmares.

Ice cravings

Recovery from ice is possible, however cravings can occur. These usually last up to 3 months. Other symptoms of ice use can persist for over 12 months.

Relapse (returning to use) is common and it may take some time to feel ‘normal’ again.

If you have any concerns about your health, contact your GP (doctor), community health centre or a drug support service.

Treatment for ice misuse

Treatment options for drug use include:

  • detoxification
  • individual counselling
  • group therapy.

Peer support – or talking to people in similar situations – can also be helpful.

Victoria has a few treatment and support services for people with ice dependence. These may be in a residential setting (such as a supervised hospital stay) or in the community using local services such as hospitals, GPs and community health services).

Some drug support services offer therapeutic day rehabilitation so you can work on your drug use while still at home. This involves structured day programs held over a certain period  using approaches such as:

If you are concerned about your use of ice and you need support withdrawing and recovering, call the ice help line 1800 ICE ADVICE (1800 423 238). Families and loved ones can get support too.

Ice and the law

Ice is an illegal drug. Penalties apply under federal and state laws for anyone who:

  • Uses or keeps it in their possession.
  • Supplies or sells it to another person (this includes without their consent – such as drink spiking)
  • Drives under its influence.
  • Sells or possesses ice pipes (applies in some states and territories, including Victoria).

Where to get help

References

More information

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Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Last updated: December 2020

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