The truth about ice
Trying ice doesn't always equal addiction
People who regularly use ice (crystal methamphetamine), such as on a daily basis, can quickly become dependent on it. However, most people who use ice use it less than weekly and are not dependant. Crystal methamphetamine is actually less addictive than heroin, cocaine, tobacco, alcohol or benzodiazepines.1
The strength of ice varies, making it easy to take too much
It's difficult for someone using ice to know how much to take as the purity of the drug could be anywhere between around 20% and 70%. Having such a large range of strengths of the drug available on the market at the same time means that it's easy to take too much and then experience negative side effect. The strength of other drugs available on the black market often vary, but they usually do so over time making it easier for someone to know how much to take.2,8
Not everyone who uses ice becomes violent and aggressive
Everyone responds to drugs differently. 'Ice psychosis' is a potential result of both high and frequent use of ice. This condition is characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and out of character aggressive or violent behaviour. The symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using ice.3
Alcohol is causing the most harm in Australia – not ice
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia and accounts for the most deaths and hospitalisations in the country compared to other drugs. Alcohol caused 5,554 deaths and 157,132 hospitalisations in 2010. In comparison, in 2011 there were 101 deaths associated with methamphetamine.4
Australia is not in the midst of an 'ice epidemic'
The number of Australians using methamphetamines isn't increasing, but of the people who already use these drugs more are using the stronger form, which is ice, rather than speed or base. This could be because the purity of 'ice' available in Australia has increased. As a result, more harm is being experienced for the person using the drug (negative side effects) and the community around them (antisocial behaviour, family breakdown).5,6
Scare tactics don't work
There is no evidence that crystal methamphetamine causes physical deformities. Campaigns depicting ravaged 'meth faces' are exaggerating the side-effects of ice. These extreme images are more likely to be related to poor sleep habits, dental hygiene, and diet – due to being dependant on the drug for a long time – than the crystal methamphetamine itself. Some people who use ice do pick at their skin and therefore develop facial scabs. However, there may be no visible signs that someone is using the substance, including if they are using it regularly.
Research into health promotion techniques has shown that using 'meth face' images in campaigns aimed at preventing people from using or continuing to use ice doesn't work. This research has also found this technique stigmatises people who use the drug.3
There is treatment available for people with ice problems
A range of treatment options are available for crystal methamphetamine use, including counselling, rehabilitation, self-help and family support. However, even when a person using ice is motivated to quit, it can be a difficult task and relapse rates are high.6
People generally get ice from someone they know
Over 60% of Australians who use ice get it from a friend and 30% get it from a dealer.5
Methamphetamine is not a new drug
Methamphetamine was first synthesised from ephedrine (a form of amphetamine), in Japan in 1893. It was widely used in World War Two when Japan, Germany and the United States provided the drug to military personal to increase endurance and performance. In 1941, methamphetamine was sold over the counter and advertised as a product to 'fight sleepiness and enhance vitality'.6
1. Lee, N. & Farrell, M. (2015, August 21). FactCheck: is ice more dangerous and addictive than any other illegal drug? The Conversation.
2. Parliament of Victoria, Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee. (2014). Inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamines, particularly ice, in Victoria - Final Report.
3. Hart, C., Csete, J. & Habibi, D. (2014). Methamphetamine: Fact vs. Fiction and lessons from the crack hysteria. New York: Columbia University.
4. National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. (2006). Methamphetamine Psychosis. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.
5. Roxburgh, A. and Burns, L. (2011). Cocaine and methamphetamine related drug-induced deaths in Australia. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
6. Douglas Anglin, M., Burke, C., Perrochet, B., Stamper, E. & Dawud-Noursi, S. (2000). History of the Methamphetamine Problem, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 32(2), 137-141.
7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2014). 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report. Canberra: AIHW.
8. Scott, N., Caulkins, J., Ritter, A., Quinn, C. & Dietze, P. (2014). High-frequency drug purity and price series as tools for explaining drug trends and harms in Victoria, Australia. Addiction. 110. 120-128.
Last updated: 4 May 2016