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Article Summary

History Of Meth

Although most people do not know this, meth is not new in the market even though it has started becoming more powerful and potent in recent years as a result of the evolution of the techniques used to manufacture it.

In fact, the class of drugs it belongs to - commonly referred to as amphetamines - were first created in Germany in 1887. Methamphetamine, which is easier to make but more potent, was eventually developed in 1919 in Japan. This crystalline powder is soluble in water, which is why it is such a good candidate for intravenous drug use.

The drug was used widely during the Second World War when both the Allies and the Axis powers used it to help keep their troops awake. In particular, Japanese Kamikaze pilots took high doses of meth before they carried out their suicide missions.

After the war, the abuse of the drug through intravenous use reached such high proportions that it resembled an epidemic. This was after the meth supplies that had initially been stored for use by the army widely became available to the general public in Japan.

During the 50s, the drug was prescribed by doctors as a medication to fight depression and aid in digestion. Since it was so widely and easily available, meth was also used by college students, athletes, and truck drivers as a non-medical stimulant. This caused the spread of the drug, a pattern that only charged in the 60s due to the increasing availability of meth that could be taken intravenously. Eventually, the abuse of the drug reached epic proportions.

It was only in 1970 that the U.S. government illegalized meth for most uses. Since then, American motorbike gangs started controlling most of the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the substance. At the time, however, most users lived in rural areas and few of them could afford to buy cocaine, which was more expensive.

By the 90s, several Mexican drug trafficking outfits started setting up large meth labs all over California. Although most of these massive laboratories are still able to generate about 50 pounds of methamphetamine in a single weekend, many smaller but equally dangerous private laboratories have now started springing up in apartments and kitchens. This is why the drug is commonly referred to as stove top.

Since then, meth has been spreading all across the US and straight into Europe primarily through the Czech Republic. In Asia, the drug is mostly produced in China, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Introducing Meth

Also referred to as meth or crystal meth, methamphetamine is a powerful addictive stimulant. Its history began during WWII and with a variety of medical treatments. However, the drug has since turned into an illegal phenomenon of mom and pop labs, dependence, full blown addiction, and a wide range of psychological and physical side effects.

As a stimulant, meth mostly comes in the form of a chunky crystal-like substance or in powder form. It is known by a variety of names on the streets, including zoom, glass, ice, crank, and crystal. Up close, it looks like shiny off-white rocks or fragments of glass.

Most people use meth by smoking it, swallowing it, injecting the drug in its soluble form, or crushing and snorting it. When the drug hits the brain, it causes different effects, including alertness, physical activity, increased wakefulness, decreased appetite, a sense of excitement and euphoria, faster but shallow breathing, and increased body temperatures and blood pressure.

Since it comes with the potential to cause a high - described as an intensely pleasurable and rewarding experience - meth can be quite addictive making it difficult for most users to stop abusing it. However, those who abuse it over the long haul end up suffering adverse cognitive and health problems.

Early Amphetamine Use

Meth is a derivative of amphetamine which was first synthesized at the University of Berlin by Lazar Edeleanu, a Romanian chemist. However, people started using this chemical therapeutically in the 1920s after it was re-synthesized by Gordon Alles for the treatment of common cold, hay fever, and asthma.

By 1932, the common belief was that amphetamines had medicinal value. As a direct result, Smith, Kline, and French Labs started marketing an inhaler based on amphetamine that was called Benzedrine to treat nasal congestion. At the time, Benzedrine was the first product based on amphetamine to come on the market.

In the years that followed, most major pharmaceutical companies in the US started promoting the amphetamine-based treatment for a variety of conditions, including but not limited to rhinitis and asthma.

Meth Emerges

Methamphetamine was first synthesized by Nagayoshi Nagai from ephedrine, its precursor chemical, in 1893. However, the drug was not popularly used until the onset of World War II in the 1940s.

During the Great War, the Japanese, American, English, and German governments heavily promoted the use of the drug for energy, wakefulness, and endurance among military personnel and soldiers.

In Germany, Otto Ranke - an army physiologist - consider meth as a miracle chemical. This is because it kept his armies euphoric and awake. As a direct result, German soldiers consumed millions of tablets containing this drug during World War II. At the time, they were available in the form of tablets known as Pervitin or tank chocolate.

Eventually, the addictive properties and side effects of Pervitin started rearing the drug's ugly head and caused many soldiers to lose their lives as a result of suicide and heart failure.

It is now commonly believed that Adolf Hitler started using meth after it was prescribed to him by Theodor Morell, a German doctor. History also shows that he might have been under the influence of the drug when held his very last meeting with Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, in 1943.

Histories also suggest that Hitler used to take a cocktail containing close to 74 different intoxicating substances during the Second World War, including but not limited to crystal meth, morphine, and tranquilizers.

Even so, the first mainstream epidemic involving methamphetamine was first recorded in Japan. According to historical records, Japanese kamikaze pilots were high on the drug during the war. Additionally, many Japanese factory workers would take the drug to enable them ward off fatigue and keep on working for longer hours.

At the end of the war, most military warehouses still had an excessive supply of the drug. As a direct result, major pharmaceutical companies started producing meth pills for regular consumption by the general public.

During the Korean War, American soldiers used amphetamines heavily. In fact, some of the soldiers started creating their own unique speed balls by taking a cocktail of amphetamine and heroin.

In the same way, during the Vietnam War, recent research now shows that the army administered more than 225 million tablets of Dextroamphetamine and more than half of the entire military used the drug regularly.

As the US started withdrawing from the Vietnam War around 1973, the percentage of military personnel taking these drugs had jumped to close to 70% of the entire US Army.

Meth Use In The U.S.

In the early years of the 20th century, Americans still need a prescription to buy amphetamine. Therefore, the use of this stimulant was still not common. However, things took a turn for the worst in the 50s when the use of amphetamines started increasing among several groups of civilians - including but not limited to college students, factory workers, housewives, athletes, and truck drivers.

An increase in the abuse of inhalers based on amphetamine, however, caused the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to ban them in 1959. Even so, amphetamines were still promoted heavily at the same time as a treatment option for depression, narcolepsy, hyperactivity, and obesity.

It was around this time that the intravenous use of meth increased in popularity - particular among segments of the population that already had a history of abusing illicit drugs.

By the 60s, speed freaks was a term commonly used to refer to the compulsive use of high doses of meth and amphetamines. At the time, users would take close to half a gram of amphetamine in a single intravenous injection. Others would orally consume 2 to 4 capsules containing 10mg of the substances. Soon after, the slogan speed kills became quite popular to refer to this phenomenon.

The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970. It effectively classified every form of the class of drugs known as amphetamines as Schedule II substances. This meant that all these drugs had legal and acceptable medical uses but also carried a relatively high risk for dependence, abuse, tolerance, and addiction.

Additionally, the government placed the key chemical in amphetamine (phenyl-2-propanone, also known as P2P) under federal control. Even so, it failed to regulate pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, the ingredients that tend to boost the potency of meth over and beyond the potency of amphetamine.

As a direct result, and in spite of the government's efforts to reduce the use of amphetamine and increase preventative awareness, more people started using meth in the 80s. Some cooks also discovered just how easy it was to create meth using basic household products such as acetone, battery acid, and paint thinner in conjunction with ephedrine.

Around the same time, Mexican drug cartels started supplying the key ingredient for creating meth - ephedrine - to cooks working for gangs of West Coast bikers. This caused a surge in homemade methamphetamine laboratories.

On Meth Labs

STLs, or small toxic labs, are the mom and pop operations that produce meth easily and cheaply. According to data from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), it is now estimated that methamphetamine cooks only need to spend about $100 in raw materials to produce a batch of the substance worth over $1000 in a couple of hours. As a direct result, it is highly likely that there are thousands - or tens of thousands - of such small localized operations spreading out all around the United States.

Larger operations, commonly referred to as super labs, on the other hand, produce close to 10 pounds of the drug in a single production cycle. Most of them largely depend on the pharmaceutical ephedrine they can get from the black market.

At the moment, California is the main state where the production of meth tends to reach super lab levels. Even though the number of STLs is larger than that of super labs, it is inevitable that super labs end up producing the greatest amount of the substance.

Curbing Meth Production, Distribution, And Use

The DEA first tried regulating both pseudoephedrine and ephedrine in 1986. However, pharmaceutical companies ganged up to oppose the legislation since it would effectively and dramatically affect the production of cold medications, an industry that is worth $3 billion.

The DEA and the pharmaceutical industry therefore reached a compromise. At the end of it, the DEA would regulate pseudoephedrine and ephedrine powder but they would not regulate finished pills.

To counter this move, meth cooks started switching to pills in the early 1990s because they were still largely unregulated. At the same time, the Mexican Amezcua cartel continued supplying the American market with ephedrine in bulk. This caused the potency of the drug to continue rising all through the country. Eventually, however, exposed Amezcua and the government started asking foreign manufactures to stop exporting ephedrine to the United States.

In 1993 the law was changed to require all companies that sold ephedrine pills to register themselves with the DEA. This forced meth cooks to switch to the yet unregulated pseudoephedrine pills.

Since these pills need to be broken down first to get the key ingredients, some cooks started adding hazardous and flammable chemicals to the lab process. The Meth Task Force now estimates that close to 60% of all meth labs had fires and explosions during this time.

By 1996, the law changed again to require all companies selling pseudoephedrine pills to register with the Administration. However, this law made an exemption for cold remedies that were sold in the traditional blister packs assuming that it would be harder for cooks to open the packs and distribute them at larger volumes. Unfortunately, after 3 years close to 50% of all seized methamphetamine labs had evidence of pseudoephedrine derived from blister packs.

In spite of all these changes in the law and regulations, some major Mexican drug cartels kept on tracking the drug. Canadian dealers also started supplying pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine cooks in California until about 2003.

By 2004, however, the State of Oklahoma passed new legislation that required all customers buying products that contained pseudoephedrine to sign a register and show identification.

In the following year, over 35 other states copied this move. Additionally, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was passed. It effectively mandated all pharmacies and store retailers to keep their supplies of pseudoephedrine locked up.

However, the UN World Drug Report of 2006 still showed that methamphetamine was the most abused substance around the globe. The same Report also proved that there were more than 26 million meth addicts - which was equal to the total number of cocaine and heroin addictions combined.

The Mexican government first intervened in the epidemic when it banned the importation of pseudoephedrine in 2009. As a direct result, the availability of meth in the country plummeted.

To counter this move, California increased the production of meth in small labs in different locations. This enabled it to become the biggest producer of the drug in the entire country.

The Methamphetamine Capital Of The United States

San Diego became infamous in the 1980s when it acquired the name "meth capital of the nation". Around this time, the federal government started regulating P2P, which compelled labs to start using ephedrine (and other precursors) to produce meth.

Since San Diego is in close proximity to San Bernardino County and Mexico, and is home to the Hells Angels MC (motorcycle club), meth production exploded there. By 1989, for instance, the DEA shut down more than 29 labs and 100 meth cooks in one of the biggest busts of the drug in its entire history of existence.

Methamphetamine Use Today

In spite of existing laws and regulation measures, meth use till continues unabated. SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services), for instance, reports that more than 1.4 million people aged above 12 reported that they had used to the drug in 2016.

The same report showed that over 32,000 teens aged between 12 and 17 reported that they had used meth at the same time. From 2002 to 2014, however, the use of the drug among teens and adults still remained relatively stable.

Even so, visits to emergency departments related to meth abuse rose from slightly over 67,000 in 2007 to more than 100,000 in 2011. At the same time, more than 60% of these visits to hospitals were as a result of the combined use of this drug and other intoxicating substances.

These statistics show that it is highly likely that polysubstance use - which is more dangerous than but still quite as fatal as meth use - is on the rise. It also seems that dangerous practices like goof balling or speed balling, where people use a combination cocktail of heroin and meth at the same time, are becoming more common.

Treating Meth Addiction

Addiction to this drug can be difficult to deal with and treat. This is as a direct result of the intense and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms that tend to occur when you first stop taking meth. Some of these withdrawal effects may include the following:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Severe depression
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Persistent and intense cravings for the drug
  • Irritability
  • Intensely vivid dreams
  • Increased dysphoric mood
  • Anxiety
  • Anhedonia (which is basically the lack of pleasure)

When you experience these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms all at the same time, it will be even more difficult for your treatment to work. It is for this exact reason that users suffer such a high risk of relapse, particularly during the earlier stages of their recovery and sobriety.

At the moment, the most effective approaches to meth abuse and addiction treatment include, but are not limited to:

  • 12-step programs
  • Case management
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (commonly abbreviated as MIEDAR)
  • Relapse prevention education
  • The Matrix Model

You can also attend CMA (Crystal Meth Anonymous) meetings. This organization was founded in 1994 by Bill C as he was recovering from crystal meth addiction after he had already experienced 16 years of full sobriety after attending AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings.

Today, CMA works as a 12 step approach where individuals who are addicted to and dependent on crystal meth can receive fellowship and appropriate support during their journey to full recovery.

Genesis Of Meth

Amphetamine type stimulants - including meth - were first developed by scientists as an artificial alternative and substitute to the ephedra plant. This plant occurs as a shrub. Its extract has traditionally been used by the Chinese for more than 5000 years.

Nagai Nagayoshi, a Japanese chemist who was studying in Germany, first identified and discovered the active chemical in the shrub in 1885. The stimulant so discovered was eventually called ephedrine.

However, it was only in 1919 that another Japanese chemist (Akira Ogata) streamlined the process of producing methamphetamine. He used iodine and phosphorus to reduce ephedrine into its crystallized form. By so doing, he effectively created the first crystal meth in the world.

Crystal Meth Vs. Other Meth Types

Today, meth is known as a stimulant substance. The drug also appears as methamphetamine hydrochloride that is marketed as Desoxyn. Desoxyn is a FDA approved but controlled substance that is commonly used in the treatment of obesity and ADHD.

Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall (amphetamine) are also related to meth but also approved by the FDA. These drugs are commonly used in the treatment of ADHD among teens.

There are other illegal forms of amphetamine that often appear as a white powder. People take this drug recreationally by snorting it or dissolving it in water before injecting it directly into their bloodstreams.

Crystal meth, on the other hand, is the solid and crystalline form of methamphetamine. It looks like clear white rocks or shards of glass. Most users will either snort or smoke crystal meth.

When smoked, the crystal meth can easily and quickly elevate the levels of the methamphetamine chemical inside the brain. This will give you a rapid and intense high. It is due to this high that crystal meth is considered to be the most addictive and (potentially) most harmful of all forms of amphetamine.

Benzedrine And Early Meth Use

In 1932, Smith, Kline, and French - an American pharmaceutical company - was the first company to start marketing the use of the amphetamine inhaler for nasal congestion and asthma.

The inhaler medication, then sold as Benzedrine, was widely available as an OTC (over the counter) drug that people could buy without having to get a prescription. However, people soon discovered that it has highly energizing and euphoric side effects.

As a result of these stimulating effects, other pharmaceutical companies started manufacturing Benzedrine in form of pills. The pills were marketed as a medication for narcolepsy (a type of sleeping disorder).

Methamphetamines Use In World War II

During the Second World War, Temmler - a German pharmaceutical company - started marketing tablets containing amphetamine as non-prescription pills. At the time, they were sold under the generic brand name Pervitin. This was because amphetamine triggers bodily responses that are similar to adrenaline - including but not limited to a general willingness and drive to take risks and heightened alertness.

As a direct result, German, British, and U.S. military personnel used this stimulant as a way to enhance their endurance. They also found amphetamines useful in helping them ward off their fatigue and tiredness, particularly when they were on long campaigns.

Additionally, Kamikaze pilots took Pervitin in high doses - particularly before they engaged in their suicide flight missions. At the same time, factory workers in Japan started using the drug in high doses to enable them work longer hours.

Apart from the above, the German army expressly ordered all its fighter pilots and front-line solders to use military issued stimulants containing a combination of cocaine and amphetamines. This was because of the idea prevailing at the time that amphetamines were actually beneficial for the war effort.

Bennies And The Beat Generation

The use of bennies - the popular name for Benzedrine - rose in popular during the Beatnik culture of the 50s. In fact, many Beat Generation writers, such as W.H. Auden and Jack Kerouac reportedly abused artificial stimulants that might have included bennies.

However, in the late 50s, the use of amphetamine started falling out of popular favor. By 1959, the FDA had already started requiring people to get prescriptions of the drug Benzedrine.

At around the same time, it became more apparent that amphetamines come with a wide variety of harmful consequences and effects. These included heart failure, abnormal heart beat, paranoia, and delusions, and most addicts and regular users suffered these effects.

Meth Addiction

Using meth chronically is now known to lead to full addiction. All through your continued episodes of use, your brain may start developing tolerance to methamphetamine. As a direct result, you will have to take higher doses of it to achieve the effects that you desire. This also means that crystal meth is also addictive. In fact, some users have reported that they got hooked the first time they tried the drug.

If you are addicted to meth, you run the risk of suffering serious changes and modifications to your brain's functioning and structure. This is because the drug causes delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. For instance, you may feel like there are insects creeping around under your skin.

Additionally, most meth addicts and regular users have rotting teeth. This condition is referred to as meth mouth. Others still experience severe and adverse weight loss, which may be as a result of failing to eat or sleep during the periods of binge-use when they focus more on taking meth and recovering from its effects for a couple of days.

Labs And The Meth Epidemic

The US started tightening its regulations and laws about the sale, distribution, and use of ephedrine in the 80s. Ephedrine is a pharmaceutical precursor that is used to manufacture crystal meth.

This caused most meth labs to turn to pseudoephedrine, which was easier to obtain at the time. Pseudoephedrine is another precursor that is commonly found in most cold drugs and medicines.

Crystal meth use started exploding in the country during the 90s. From 1994 to 2004, for instance, the use of the drug has risen from just under 2 percent of the entire adult population of the United States to about 5 percent.

By 2006, meth was named as the most widely abused addictive and intoxicating substance in the world. After that, however, the use of meth started declining. This might have been as a result of the strict limits that most countries placed on the sale and distribution of pseudoephedrine.

In 2012, for instance, close to 0.4 of the entire US population reported that they had used this drug in 2011.

Meth, Adderall, And Ritalin

Although both Ritalin and Adderall have some chemical properties that are similar to those of methamphetamine, they are mostly considered to be safer. However, this is only when you take the dose that was prescribed by your doctor. This is because you can easily get addicted if you abuse these drugs.

The use of these prescription stimulants - particularly Adderall - has really climbed over the past few years among American adults. In 2012, for instance, there were more than 16 million prescriptions for Adderall among adults aged between 20 and 39.

A story that the New York Times published in 2016 also referred to millennials as Gen Adderall to show how liberally the drug was used by young adults - both with and without a medical prescription.

Concluding Thoughts

If you have ever used methamphetamine - or crystal meth - in the past, then you probably already know just how dangerously powerful and addictive the drug is. Today, improving your understanding of meth - including its history and potential for addiction - will help you start look for a solution to this problem. Luckily, there are now programs and treatments you can turn to - mostly in the form of inpatient drug rehabilitation - when you decide to stop abusing this drug. Take advantage of these programs to beat your meth addiction while also learning how methamphetamine came into existence and why it is both dangerous and addictive.

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