crystal & our moods
Crystal has complicated effects on the chemistry of our brains. And there’s a lot that science and medicine haven’t figured out yet, especially when it comes to the long-term effects of using crystal. We’re going to tell you what we know in a way we hope you understand. Please remember this is an introduction to the subject, not an advanced course in the science of brain chemistry and mood.
Just the basics
We’ve got two primary chemicals in our brains that influence our moods: serotonin and dopamine. Let’s call serotonin our ‘happy chemical’ and dopamine our ‘pleasure chemical’. Our bodies produce these chemicals naturally and release a certain amount each day. We call that the baseline. As you read along and learn about this stuff, it’s important to remember that people’s brain chemistries can be very different. We’ve each got our own baseline and even though we think we feel exactly like our best friends say they do, we can have baseline levels of serotonin and dopamine that are wildly different from someone else’s. Some of us have naturally high baselines and others of us have lower ones. When dopamine and serotonin are present in sufficient quantities, they contribute to a feeling of well-being, emotional stability and the sense that life’s challenges are tolerable. When the levels are low, we can experience a loss of interest in life’s daily routines and might feel or be depressed.
Natural highs … and lows
Our bodies store these ‘happy’ and ‘pleasure’ chemicals in our brains. This storage bin, if you will, releases bursts of them in response to specific stimuli. This additional burst is added to whatever our baselines are. Being cruised by a hot guy cruise or finding 50 bucks on the street could be enough stimulus for the brain to release a little extra. Whatever stimuli works for us, when it happens, we feel a surge of happiness or pleasure. Some of us have serotonin and dopamine levels that rise considerably in response to stimuli and others of us don’t. Some of us seem to get loads of natural highs as we move through our lives. At the opposite extreme, some guys have levels of these chemicals that rarely spike above their baselines; nothing seems to make them smile or give them a jolt of pleasure.Pleasure has it limits
Like we said, our brains store the essential ‘happy’ and ‘pleasure’ chemicals for us. Perhaps sadly, we don’t have an unlimited supply though. To help this make some sense in an experiential way, let’s use a metaphor that we can all wrap our heads around. Metaphorically speaking, it’s sort of like how guys’ bodies produce then store sperm and semen. When we cum too many times in one day, or over a couple days, we quickly find out there’s only so much cum a guy can shoot. We end up shooting very small loads or, sometimes, none at all. On the other hand, when and if we manage not to jack off or get laid for 10 days, some of us end up shooting like a lifetime exclusive porn star. How was that? All this depleted cum talk holds true for the brain and its store of serotonin and dopamine as well. Repeated ups and downs, highs and crashes, can and do deplete our reserves. And if we can give ourselves a break and wait for the body to produce some more, without tossing crystal into the mix, we’ll have our chemistries back where we might want them to be.What goes up
What crystal does is cause a huge release of serotonin and dopamine. The brain gets flooded which causes the rush and the sustained good feeling that most of us feel when we use.
While speed affects lots of different areas of the brain, it has an impact on the most primitive part of our brains, the amygdala, which kicks in with a ‘fight or flight’ response. When this part of us is stimulated, a ton of adrenalin is dumped into our systems. Adrenalin is a chemical that puts us on red alert and gives us the feeling that we can leap small buildings in a single bound. Must come down
After a few hours at this elevated state, the levels of the ‘happy’ and ‘pleasure’ chemicals start to plunge. That’s when we’re coming down.
We’re all familiar with what adds to the crash: lack of sleep, drastic changes in our nutrition and, eventually, being completely exhausted after a sustained state of heightened awareness and activity. In terms of brain chemistry, the crash has to do with the levels of dopamine and serotonin beginning to fall well below normal baseline levels. Sadly but inevitably, what goes up must come down. After the high, our bodies need some time to replenish the stores of dopamine and serotonin. Usually, this period lasts 7 to 10 days. During this time, we’ve got lower than our normal levels of these vital chemicals. That’s why we can feel drained and have difficulty concentrating or focusing for days after using crystal. Stimulant withdrawal induces a feeling and mood much like depression. Sorry to say this but it doesn’t happen any other way.
When most of us talk about the crash, we’re usually describing the initial come down and the first day or two of rebounding. What some of us don’t factor in is the 7 to 10 days it takes to return to baseline levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Given this perspective, if a newbie uses a small amount of speed, the high will last for about one day while the crash can last for 10 days.What did we just say?
Maybe it’s easier to understand speed’s effect on mood using a first-timer as an example. Someone like we used to be, someone whose brain is, or at least was, naˆåˆ½ve to the effects of speed.
Before they use crystal, the levels of dopamine and serotonin in their brain are at baseline. Right after they use, these levels spike for a period of time (the high) and then begin to drop dramatically (the crash). Soon, but not necessarily soon enough, the crash stalls out at a point below baseline. And so we start the gradual return to baseline. The return to baseline takes time because the body needs to replenish its supply of ‘happy’ serotonin and ‘pleasure’ dopamine.
This is exactly what happened to each of us the first time we cracked on and, for those of us who still use crystal, continues to happen every time thereafter. Having been through it more than once, most of us here at tweaker.org think that the crash has two distinct parts: (1) the initial plunge and (2) the 7-to-10 day climb back to baseline.Just because we can doesn’t mean we should
So, there you have it. It takes about 10 days for us to return to baseline. Where things get complicated is if we use speed again before our brains get back to baseline levels of dopamine and serotonin. We shoot back up again and can deplete our back-up supplies even more. In the lowest part of the crash, we go even lower and it can take even longer to get back to baseline.
If we use crystal frequently and repeatedly, our brains can remain depleted of serotonin and dopamine for long periods of time. This is not a good thing. We begin to forget what life is like at baseline. We get used to coming down all the time. We can start to let go our perspective and start to see it all in terms of black (the crash) and white (the high).
Let’s say we use crystal every other weekend. Being high is day one. The crash begins on day two. And lasts until day twelve. We get three days at baseline before the cycle starts up again. Those of us who use more frequently can have months or years go by without ever returning to baseline. Without access to who and how we are when we’re at baseline, some of us get confused about who we really are and how we really feel. We may end up taking our crashing selves to be our real selves.
A major concern is that the brain can learn to release ‘happy’ and ‘pleasure’ chemicals only when crystal is on board. When this happens, things that normally get us off- a great movie, a crazy zooming rollercoaster, hot as hell sex ??? just don’t do the trick anymore. Pleasure becomes synonymous with meth and everything else, more or less, pales in comparison.
Another major concern is that the part of our brains that regulates the release and absorption of these chemicals can be damaged. Take it from those of us who were heavy-duty crankster gangsters: it can take a long time to get back or near to baseline. But it did happen after we stopped it. Things in our brains and with our moods did return to normal or at least somewhere very near it. And we’re comfortable with that.What’s the difference?
Like we said at the beginning, there are differences between different people’s brain chemistries. Some people have what our grandmother’s called ironclad constitutions. They don’t catch colds, they never get headaches and they don’t often feel the side effects of medications. If we’re lucky enough to be this way, we typically bounce back quickly after using crystal and experience a short crash.
Some of us seem to be more sensitive. We feel side effects from medications and are often bothered by them. And so we might experience both the high and the crash very differently from those more ironclad folks.
And then there are those of us who might be described as being fragile or extra-sensitive. A single shot of espresso or a full dose of a decongestant leaves us feeling like a jittery, jumble of nerves. In which case we often don’t react well to crystal’s high and crash. We find that we just can’t tolerate intense stimulation followed by intense depression.Q & A time
There you have it. Crystal’s effects on mood are complicated. The high is definitely not the same for everyone. And neither is the crash. How do you go through the cycle of using, being high and coming down?
© 2012 San Francisco AIDS Foundation. All rights reserved.