Methamphetamine in hair and interpretation of forensic findings in a fatal case

Forensic Sci Int. 2005 Oct 4;153(1):93-7. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2005.04.037.


Hair analysis for drugs has been developing and is considered a significant tool for distinguishing between recent and long-term drug abuse in forensic and clinical toxicology. Chronic consumption of drugs can gradually induce certain harmful effects on the human organism and can exacerbate some pre-existing diseases. Analysis for drugs in blood or urine in isolation does not provide sufficient information about the history of drug-use by a person and their results cannot be correlated directly with the toxic effects displayed. The chronic abuse of methamphetamine is known to be associated with cardiovascular diseases. During or after autopsy certain types of morphologic alterations are found in the hearts of stimulant addicts. The rapid increase in blood pressure after an intravenous methamphetamine dose can be risky for addicts with arteriosclerosis. However, the anamnestic data about a deceased person may not always be available to explain the pathological findings and to classify the cause of death correctly. The aim of this study was to demonstrate the value of hair analysis for drugs in the context of explaining pathological cardiovascular alterations observed during the autopsy in a case where methamphetamine consumption was involved. In this case, only methamphetamine and metabolites were detected with traces of ephedrine. Ephedrine is the precursor chemical in the illicit synthesis of methamphetamine (known in the Czech Republic as "Pervitin"). The femoral blood level of methamphetamine was 1500 ng/ml. It was documented by a witness that the 31-year-old man died within 1h after an intravenous injection of the drug. The cause of death was established as cerebral edema due to cerebellar bleeding shortly after an intravenous dose of methamphetamine. Findings of methamphetamine in the first three 2-cm hair segments (numbered from the roots) were nearly equal (132+/-9 ng/mg). In the fourth 2-cm segment, it was approximately one-half of previous values. In the remaining, distal 7-cm hair segment sample, the value of methamphetamine was higher and comparable to the third segment. These results provide clear evidence that the man had been a chronic methamphetamine abuser for more than 8 months. This information can help to explain the pathology, the consequence of which could be the bleeding into the cerebellum after the last single methamphetamine dose.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Edema / chemically induced
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / analysis*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / poisoning*
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / analysis*
  • Methamphetamine / poisoning*
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methamphetamine