Why is 'ice' so bad?

You read so much about ice and how bad it is, I was just wondering why it is so much worse than other drugs like ecstasy and cocaine? No drug, not even heroin, gets as much coverage on the news or in the papers as ice. Why is it such a problem? Thanks in advance

'Ice' does get a huge amount of media attention - so let's try and understand what this drug is and why people are so concerned about it. 

Ice is an amphetamine. Amphetamines are a group of stimulant drugs that increase central nervous system activity and can come in many different forms - powder, crystals, tablets or even as a liquid. One form of amphetamines is methamphetamine. Although this can come in the 'salt' form and be called 'speed', it is now much more likely to be sold in the crystalline form known as 'ice'. It may also be called other names such as 'crystal meth', 'crystal' and 'meth'. Even though speed and ice are similar drugs, ice is far more problematic than speed, mainly because of its purity.

Speed (the powder form) is usually a very low quality drug, with purity levels usually well under 10% (sometimes less than 1%). Ice on the other hand is much more pure, with police reporting that some seizures can be up to 80% pure. At the same time, because ice is in a crystal form, it can be smoked meaning that the drug reaches the brain extremely quickly (smoking is the fastest route of administration, even faster than injecting). When you have a very pure drug hitting the brain fast it results in a very intense high and this can often lead to the user becoming addicted to the drug very quickly. Ice is also an expensive drug (between $500-$800 per gram) and once people become addicted to it they often need to commit crimes to pay for their supply.

The other aspect of ice that attracts media attention is the effect the drug has on mental health. If a person uses this drug regularly, or uses a lot over a short period of time, the level of methamphetamine reaches a toxic point, affecting the way the user thinks, causing 'psychosis'. The most common symptoms of methamphetamine psychosis are:

  • hearing or seeing things that aren't there
  • feeling suspicious, paranoid or believing other people are watching you, picking on you, or 'out to get you'
  • having strange thoughts that are hard to explain, e.g., feeling you know what other people are thinking
A major side effect of using any amphetamine is that you are unable to sleep. So when you have been not slept for a long time and are having strange thoughts and feeling paranoid, it is not surprising that often ice users can become aggressive and violent, suddenly lashing out at those around them. As a result these people can be extremely dangerous.

Certainly ice is a highly problematic drug. It continues to affect people across the country, not only for those who choose to use the drug, but also the wider community. Those who have to try to deal with ice users (such as ambulance officers, emergency workers and police) have great problems because of the aggression and violence that can be caused by methamphetamine psychosis and the crimes that some users commit often affect people who have no relationship with the drug at all.

It is difficult to try to compare one drug to another and say "this drug is worse than that one". Different drugs affect different people in different ways, and a drug that may not be particularly problematic for one person could be devastating for another. That said, ice is a particularly problematic drug because of its purity and its potential impact on mental health, and that is why it has attracted so much attention.

First published: July 2015