Distribution and pharmacokinetics of methamphetamine in the human body: clinical implications

PLoS One. 2010 Dec 7;5(12):e15269. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015269.


Background: Methamphetamine is one of the most toxic of the drugs of abuse, which may reflect its distribution and accumulation in the body. However no studies have measured methamphetamine's organ distribution in the human body.

Methods: Positron Emission Tomography (PET) was used in conjunction with [(11)C]d-methamphetamine to measure its whole-body distribution and bioavailability as assessed by peak uptake (% Dose/cc), rate of clearance (time to reach 50% peak-clearance) and accumulation (area under the curve) in healthy participants (9 Caucasians and 10 African Americans).

Results: Methamphetamine distributed through most organs. Highest uptake (whole organ) occurred in lungs (22% Dose; weight ∼1246 g), liver (23%; weight ∼1677 g) and intermediate in brain (10%; weight ∼1600 g). Kidneys also showed high uptake (per/cc basis) (7%; weight 305 g). Methamphetamine's clearance was fastest in heart and lungs (7-16 minutes), slowest in brain, liver and stomach (>75 minutes), and intermediate in kidneys, spleen and pancreas (22-50 minutes). Lung accumulation of [(11)C]d-methamphetamine was 30% higher for African Americans than Caucasians (p<0.05) but did not differ in other organs.

Conclusions: The high accumulation of methamphetamine, a potent stimulant drug, in most body organs is likely to contribute to the medical complications associated with methamphetamine abuse. In particular, we speculate that methamphetamine's high pulmonary uptake could render this organ vulnerable to infections (tuberculosis) and pathology (pulmonary hypertension). Our preliminary findings of a higher lung accumulation of methamphetamine in African Americans than Caucasians merits further investigation and questions whether it could contribute to the infrequent use of methamphetamine among African Americans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / complications
  • Area Under Curve
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / complications
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / ethnology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / complications
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / ethnology
  • Whites


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methamphetamine