Methamphetamine Overdose and Metabolic Acidosis

Methamphetamine Overdose and Metabolic Acidosis

Methamphetamine Overdose and Metabolic Acidosis

Methamphetamine Overdose and Metabolic AcidosisMetabolic acidosis is a term used to describe the buildup of excessive amounts of acid in the body’s various fluids. In some cases, this buildup stems from excessive acid production inside the body; in other cases, it stems from the kidneys’ inability to eliminate sufficient amounts of acid from the bloodstream. Whatever the underlying cause, unchecked metabolic acidosis can kill an affected individual. People who use/abuse the illegal street drug methamphetamine can develop metabolic acidosis during the course of a drug overdose. The condition arises as an end result of an unsustainable methamphetamine-related increase in body temperature.

Background Information

Doctors refer to the relative acidity of the human body as the body’s pH level. If this level falls too low, the internal environment becomes too acidic to support good health; if the pH level rises too high, the internal environment becomes too alkaline to support good health. Relative pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. A pH level between 0 and 7 falls within the acidic range of this scale, while a pH level between 7 and 14 falls within the alkaline range of the scale. Under normal circumstances, the pH level of human blood falls somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45, which means it has a slightly alkaline quality. Levels that fall below 6.8 or rise above 7.8 can kill a human being.

Metabolic Acidosis Basics

Metabolic acidosis is actually a general term that groups together several specific types of acidosis, including conditions called lactic acidosis, diabetic acidosis and hyperchloremic acidosis. Lactic acidosis occurs when the body contains too much of a substance called lactic acid, which comes primarily from red blood cells and muscle tissue. Diabetic acidosis occurs when a person with uncontrolled type 1 diabetes starts to produce acidic compounds called ketone bodies, which try to control blood sugar levels in the absence of adequate amounts of insulin. Hyperchloremic acidosis occurs when the presence of heavy diarrhea (or certain other problems) makes the body lose too much of a substance called sodium bicarbonate. Apart from these specific disorders, metabolic acidosis can also appear in people who lose normal kidney function for any reason, in people who experience certain types of poisoning, and in people who become extremely dehydrated.

The specific symptoms of metabolic acidosis vary according to the underlying cause of the condition, the US National Library of Medicine explains. Generalized symptoms commonly found in people with excessive blood acidity include unusual sluggishness, a disoriented mental state and breathing that’s unusually rapid. If left untreated, metabolic acidosis can lead to a system-wide medical emergency called shock, which occurs when blood pressure falls too low to deliver adequate amounts of oxygen to the body’s tissues. In turn, untreated shock can lead to death.

The Role of Methamphetamine Overdose

As is true with all drug overdoses, a methamphetamine overdose occurs when toxic effects of the drug overwhelm normal function in the body’s nervous system. In the case of methamphetamine, overdose is tied to rising levels of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, located in both the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and an involuntary control network called the sympathetic nervous system. In the context of metabolic acidosis, the main consequence of a methamphetamine overdose is a condition called hyperthermia, which occurs when sympathetic nervous system overstimulation leads to an unsupportable rise in normal body temperature.

When hyperthermia exerts its effects on the body’s muscle tissue, it can lead to a breakdown of that tissue and an abnormal release of proteins, called myoglobins, into the bloodstream. In turn, myoglobins in the bloodstream travel to the kidneys, where they break down and clog up structures in the kidneys that are designed to remove waste materials from the blood. Critically, the kidneys also help control the acid content in the bloodstream and, as previously indicated, any degradation of the kidneys’ normal function can lead to a dangerous increase in blood acid content and the onset of metabolic acidosis. In people experiencing a methamphetamine overdose, this is precisely what can happen.


Doctors refer to the abnormal breakdown of muscle tissue and the resulting release of myoglobins into the bloodstream as a condition called rhabdomyolysis. Apart from any concerns regarding metabolic acidosis, this condition can produce potentially fatal outcomes during a methamphetamine overdose by leading to significant kidney damage and the partial or full disruption of normal kidney function (otherwise known as kidney failure).

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