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What Does Meth Do to Your Lungs?

what does meth do to your lungs

Also known as ice, meth, and crystal meth, methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant that’s recreationally used for its euphoric and energetic side effects.

Meth can come in the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting powder that can be easily dissolved in water or alcohol. Although it was once used in nasal decongestants and inhalers, crystal meth is more commonly abused for its ability to increase alertness, energy, mood, and sociability. However, as with most CNS stimulants, methamphetamine is highly addictive and dangerous. Because meth is most commonly smoked or inhaled, many people wonder, “what does meth do to your lungs?” Our drug rehab in Naperville, IL, shares what we found.

The Effects of Smoking Ice On Lungs

The effects of meth on the lungs can be severe, even in casual or short-term users. The most common way to use meth is by smoking it, meaning respiratory issues are often associated with this form of drug abuse. Below is a list of what smoking meth does to your lungs.

Constricts Blood Vessels

Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels, which occurs when the smooth muscles in blood vessel walls begin to tighten. Cocaine can cause pulmonary vasoconstriction, which is when the blood vessels in the lungs tighten. This redirects blood flow away from poorly ventilated parts of the lungs towards better-ventilated parts, which then affects the relationship between ventilation and perfusion (how and where blood is flowing in your lungs). Meth can affect your lungs’ attempts to pair its oxygenated or ventilated areas with other areas of sufficient blood supply. When the lungs don’t get enough oxygen, pulmonary vessels constrict in an attempt to shift blood to better-ventilated parts of the lung.1 Long-term meth abuse only increases the likelihood of this problem. Without PHP treatment, addicts are at a higher risk of suffering from respiratory problems in addition to other physical repercussions.


Meth lung damage also includes pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that inflames or irritates the air sacs in one or both lungs. Air sacs fill with fluid or pus, causing symptoms like cough, phlegm, fever, chills, and difficulties breathing. One study found that pneumonia often occurs as a result of contaminated drug use.2 Considering that meth contains many cutting agents or additives that are usually unknown to the user, this claim is practical.

Acute Respiratory Failure

Acute respiratory failure occurs when fluid builds up in the air sacs in the lungs. Also called alveoli, air sacs are at the end of each bronchiole (branches of air tubes in the lungs). The alveoli are where the lungs and blood exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is when we breathe in and out. There are usually about 480 million alveoli or air sacs located at the end of each bronchial tube. When a person smokes too much meth, they increase their risk of experiencing acute respiratory failure. Smoking inhibits the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, making it difficult to breathe. It also prevents the rest of your organs from receiving enough oxygen-rich blood to function. Acute respiratory failure is often a byproduct of vasoconstriction, which is a common sign of “meth lungs.”

Alveoli Damage

Methamphetamine affects the lungs by causing alveoli damage as well. Alveoli are the air sacs in your lungs, which make it possible for you to breathe in and out. Meth can either directly damage these air sacs or be a catalyst to other conditions like emphysema, which causes damage to the inner walls of the lungs’ air sacs, causing them to eventually rupture. This creates one larger air sacs instead of several smaller ones, reducing the surface area available for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and blood. It can also cause shortness of breath, which could lead to a “meth cough” or excessive coughing after smoking meth.

Collapsed Lungs

A pneumothorax is a collapsed lung, which can also occur as a result of smoking meth. A collapsed lung occurs when air leaks into the space between your lung and chest wall. This air pushes on the outside of the lung and makes it collapse, which can happen to either the entire lung or just a portion of it. A user will experience chest pains after smoking crystal meth if they’ve experienced a collapsed or two collapsed lungs. One study found that even intravenous methamphetamine use (injecting it) can also increase the risk of experiencing spontaneous pneumothoraces or collapsed lungs.3

Interstitial Lung Disease

Another one of the many smoking meth effects on the lungs is interstitial lung disease (ILD), which is an umbrella term for a larger group of diseases that cause scarring (fibrosis) in your lungs. A build-up of scar tissue in the lungs makes it difficult for them to expand, breathe, and get oxygen into the bloodstream and to other organs. ILD lung damage is usually irreversible and can become worse over time. Research has attributed interstitial lung disease to one particular ingredient in methamphetamine: talc. It’s shown that inhaling a certain amount of talc can result in interstitial pulmonary fibrosis and progressive massive fibrosis alongside other problems.4

Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that impacts the arteries in your lungs and the right side of your heart. One form of pulmonary hypertension that can occur from meth abuse is called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which is when blood vessels in your lungs are narrowed, blocked, or destroyed. Studies show that methamphetamine use and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) are linked. Meth addicts who develop PAH are also more likely to experience progressive heart failure.5 Additionally, pulmonary hypertension can increase the likelihood of developing lung mucus from smoking ice.

What meth does to your lungs isn’t the only thing you should be worried about. Meth-related skin problems can also occur as well as tooth decay. The duration of meth effects can also contribute to other problems in physical and cognitive function over time. However, because methamphetamine is so addictive, those who are dependent on it will continue to use it despite the harm it does.

Among his many drug-related problems, Richard’s most notorious was his arrest in Toronto on February 27th, 1977. The Canadian Mounted Police detained Richards in a hotel room where he was found with different substances, including 22 grams of heroin and 5 grams of cocaine. After his court trial for heroin possession in October of 1978, he was placed on probation and underwent heroin detox and treatment. Although he’s admitted to marijuana and alcohol use, he’s been sober from heroin ever since.

If you or someone you know is battling a meth addiction or any other substance use disorder, do not wait to get help. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that usually gets worse when IOP treatment is not received. Call Banyan Treatment Centers Chicago today at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.