Ice facts Ice. White crystals with a glass pipe for smoking. © Australian Drug Foundation.

What is ice?

Effects of ice

Tolerance and dependence

Getting help

Ice use in Australia

What is ice?

"Ice" is a common name for crystal methamphetamine. It is more potent
than other forms of amphetamine, including the powder form that is sometimes referred to as "speed".

This means that ice generally has a stronger effect that lasts for longer than other forms of amphetamine. It also has stronger side effects and a worse "comedown".

Amphetamines, including crystal methamphetamine, belong to a group of drugs called stimulants. They speed up the messages going between the brain and the body.

Other names

As well as "ice", crystal methamphetamine is known as crystal, meth, crystal meth, shabu, tina or glass.

What does it look like?

Ice appears in a crystalline form that can range from large, clear-coloured, "sheet-like" crystals through to a crystalline powder. It can also appear in a range of colours.

How is ice used?

Ice is usually smoked or injected. It is also snorted or swallowed.

Effects of ice

Effects vary from person to person, and may be immediate or long-term effects. They will depend on the size, weight and health of the person taking ice, whether they are used to taking the drug, whether other drugs are present in their body, and of course, the amount taken.

It can be very hard to judge the amount taken, as the quality and strength of drugs can vary greatly from one batch to another.

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Immediate effects

Depending on how ice is taken, the effects may be felt immediately (through injecting or smoking) or within 30 minutes (snorting) and approximately 20–30 minutes if swallowed. Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking ice include:

Low to moderate doses
  • feelings of euphoria, excitement and a sense of wellbeing
  • feelings of confidence and motivation
  • sense of power and superiority over others
  • increased talkativeness
  • increased libido
  • restlessness, repeating simple acts
  • nervousness, anxiety, agitation and panic
  • paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • irritability, hostility and aggression
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • feeling more awake and alert, reduced need for sleep and difficulty sleeping
  • abrupt shifts in thought and speech that can make people difficult to understand
  • enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • dry mouth
  • increased breathing rate
  • shortness of breath (from smoking ice)
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • irregular heart beat, palpitations
  • chest pain
  • reduced appetite
  • stomach cramps
  • stomach irritation (if swallowed)
  • feeling energetic
  • increased sweating
  • increased body temperature
  • faster reaction times
  • feelings of increased strength
  • itching, picking and scratching.

Higher doses

A high dose of ice can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more ice than their body can cope with.

The risk of overdose increases if the strength or purity of the ice is not known.

Injecting ice increases the risk of overdose due to large amounts of the drug entering the blood stream and quickly travelling to the brain.

High doses of ice can intensify some of the effects. People may also experience:

  • blurred vision
  • tremors
  • irregular breathing
  • loss of coordination
  • collapse
  • rapid pounding heart
  • violent or aggressive behaviour
  • hallucinations.

“Ice psychosis” is caused by high doses and frequent heavy use. It is characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and bizarre, aggressive or violent behaviour. These symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using ice.

Coming down

As the effects of ice begin to wear off, a person may experience a range of effects. These effects can last several days after use and may include:

  • feeling restless, irritable and anxious
  • paranoia
  • depression
  • radical mood swings
  • lethargy
  • exhaustion
  • increased sleep
  • uncontrolled violence.

Long-term effects

The long-term health effects of ice use include:

  • malnutrition and rapid weight loss due to reduced appetite
  • chronic sleeping problems
  • reduced immunity and increased susceptibility to infections, due to not sleeping or eating properly
  • cracked teeth and other dental problems from clenching the jaw, grinding the teeth, dry mouth and poor hygiene
  • high blood pressure and rapid and irregular heartbeat, which places stress on the heart and can increase the risk of heart-related complications such as heart attack and heart failure
  • increased strain on the kidneys, which can result in kidney failure
  • increased risk of stroke
  • depression, anxiety, tension and paranoia
  • brain damage: there is some evidence that ice can damage brain cells, resulting in reduced memory function and other impairments in thinking.


Some other long-term effects of ice are related to the method of use:

Snorting
  • damage to nasal lining.
Smoking
  • damage to lungs.
Injecting
  • Using the same injecting site often can cause inflammation, abscessees, vein damage and scarring.
  • Impurities and additives in ice can damage veins. This can also cause thrombosis.

Other effects of ice use

Taking ice with other drugs

The effects of mixing ice with other drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines, are often unpredictable.

If ice is taken with other stimulant drugs (such as cocaine or ecstasy) the stimulant effect is increased placing enormous pressure on the heart and body, which can lead to stroke.

Taking ice with depressant drugs such as alcohol, cannabis, heroin or benzodiazepines also places the body under great stress.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Read about the effects of amphetamines on pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Driving

Read about the effects of amphetamines on driving.

Tolerance and dependence

There is evidence that after prolonged use ice is highly addictive. People who use ice regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to it, which means they need to take larger amounts of ice to get the same effect.

Dependence on ice can be psychological, physical, or both. People who are dependent on ice find that using the drug becomes far more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and find it very difficult to stop using it.

People who are psychologically dependent on ice may find they feel an urge to use it when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends.

Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body adapts to ice and gets used to functioning with the ice present.

Getting help

Treatment

In Australia, there are many different types of treatments for drug problems. Some aim to help people to stop using a drug, while others aim to reduce the risks and harm related to drug use.

Find out more about treatment.

What to do if you are concerned about someone’s drug use

If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.

What to do in a crisis

Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.

If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using ice, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. A quick response can save their life.

Visit the Better Health Channel to read St John Ambulance's advice on drug overdose.

Ice use in Australia

Statistics

According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey for 2010, 2.1% of Australians aged over 14 years had used amphetamines in the previous 12 months. For more statistics about the use of ice in Australia, visit our Quick statistics page.

Ice and the law

Ice is illegal in Australia.

Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making, selling or driving under the influence of ice. Penalties can include fines, imprisonment and being disqualified from driving.

Some states and territories have programs that refer people with a drug problem to treatment programs where they can receive help rather than going through the criminal justice system.

Please note: This information does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in this way. The information is correct at the time of publication. For information specific to your situation contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.

Read more about drugs and the law.

National drug policy

Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.