People who take and deal in methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth, face the severest penalties possible from today when it is reclassified from a Class B to a Class A substance.

The Home Office decided to reclassify last year, after an explosion in the use of the drug amongst gay men who attend nightclubs.

Those who take it can face up to seven years in jail for possession, and up to life for those who manufacture or deal it.

As a Class A drug, it is now the focus of more intelligence led operations to thwart supply and bust laboratories.

Last month a man died after taking the drug in a Vauxhall nightclub.

Research published in July last year claimed that up to 20% of gay men questioned at sexual health clinics and gyms in London had taken the drug.

Gay men who use crystal meth were between two and three times more likely to have unsafe sex as those who do not use the drug.

However, use of this highly dangerous substance does not seem to be as widespread in the wider gay population.

The Gay Men’s Sex Survey 2005 showed that fewer than 3% of gay men had used crystal meth in the previous 12 months and 0.3% of men used crystal once or more a week.

In London, just over 6% of gay men had used crystal in the previous year, and the vast majority of men who had used crystal had done so less than once a month.

When smoked or injected, crystal meth leads to a high similar to crack cocaine but longer lasting and more damaging.

It can quickly become addictive and lead to depression, paranoia, violent behaviour, kidney failure and internal bleeding.

Crystal meth smoking can also ruin a person’s appearance through “meth mouth”, which is characterised by chronic rotting of teeth and gums.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said in a statement to PinkNews.co.uk,

“Crystal meth is a very harmful drug but fortunately it is not widespread in the UK.

“However, we know from the experiences of other countries that it has the potential to ruin the lives of individuals and their families. We cannot afford to be complacent.

“Reclassification is a precautionary measure that helps to ensure crystal meth does not gain a foothold in the UK.

“It becomes a higher priority for police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

“I believe tougher penalties send a strong message that dealing and making crystal meth will not be tolerated.”

The reclassification has also been welcomed by AIDS and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust.

“The reclassification of crystal meth is a pragmatic move and brings it in line with other drugs of this nature.

“Experiences from other parts of the world show us that crystal meth can have a detrimental effect on communities as well as the lives of individuals.

“However, reclassification needs to come hand in hand with funding for education and effective treatment services,” said Will Nutland, Head of Health Promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust.