Methamphetamine or meth: everything you need to know
Meth is a strong drug with some serious side effects. Find out more about methamphetamine, where it comes from, and what it does.
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What is methamphetamine? A definition
Methamphetamine: An Introduction
Methamphetamine, or meth for short, is an incredibly powerful stimulant drug. It’s made from a variety of toxic chemicals and most often bought and sold illegally. It accelerates a user’s thought processes and central nervous system (CNS), similar to cocaine and other amphetamines.
Because of its highly addictive nature, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies it as a Schedule II drug. This means it’s illegal to buy, sell, or manufacture in any way shape or form. That doesn’t stop people from using the drug, though. Three-quarters of a million people in the United States ages 12 and older actively use methamphetamine.
Meth causes a sudden rush of euphoric feelings at first then causes anxiety, agitation, or frustration. Once the drug wears off, though, it results in a massive, depressing crash. In addition to the incredible crash, methamphetamine causes a wide range of health problems. It’s not a fun and exciting drug to use; in fact it tears your life apart apart the longer you use.
What Methamphetamine Means
Methamphetamine today has the same basic properties as the original forms of the drug. The meth available on the streets today is much different and far more dangerous, though. In the 1960s, the stimulating effects of amphetamine were massively popular in helping doctors treat patients with a variety of conditions.
Nasal congestion, depression, and weight loss were often aided by small prescription doses of amphetamine or methamphetamine. Benzedrine, or “bennies,” were also widely available during the 1950s and 1960s. People could operate on legal doses of speed throughout the mid-1900s. Artists were particularly fond of the impact of its stimulating effects on their work.
The Controlled Substances Act adopted it underneath its umbrella of illegal drugs in 1971 which significantly decreased its popularity. Then use resurged in the 1980s when it emerged as a street drug, more similar to the methamphetamine cooked in meth labs and still available on the streets today. Although use ebbed and flowed over time, it still holds a significant position on the list of commonly abused drugs.
More About Meth
Meth is a dangerous and highly addictive amphetamine drug. It’s in the same class as cocaine and prescription amphetamines due to its stimulating and appetite-suppressing properties. It differs slightly from these drugs because of the manufacturing process used to make it. Meth is often an incredibly dirty drug due to the toxic substances manufacturers cut it with.
The active ingredient needed to make methamphetamine is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, a medication found in many nasal decongestants. Meth manufacturers “cook” large batches in homemade laboratories, or “meth labs.” These labs are dangerous on their own, at risk of fire and explosions. They also leave behind harmful chemicals long after the lab is gone.
Manufacturers cook down ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to extract the base for their homemade batches of methamphetamine. Then they combine the base with any number of inexpensive filler substances such as drain cleaner or antifreeze. Oftentimes they cut the finished product with additional dry fillers.
Stimulating effects of ephedrine are amplified once broken down and made into methamphetamine. These effects come from the drug encouraging a massive release of dopamine and serotonin in the user’s brain. After the initial sudden and intense rush, users remain alert, active, and on edge for hours at a time.
Other Names for Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is widely available on the streets if you know where to look and what to call it. People hardly ever refer to the drug by its full, proper name. They don’t want others to know what they’re talking about, so they use a few different slang names instead. Some of the names people use to refer to methamphetamine include:
- Meth: This name is simply short for methamphetamine, making it easier to refer to.
- Speed: The name speed references the stimulating and energizing effects that methamphetamine causes.
- Crystal or crystal meth: This refers to the crystalline form that meth comes in before its crushed into a powder.
- Tweak: Some people call meth tweak for short because being high on methamphetamine is usually called “tweaking.”
- Ice: Ice is another reference to the crystalline form that meth comes in before manufacturers crush it down.
- Glass: Although not as common, some users call meth “glass,” again because of the shattered, crystalline form.
If you’re worried that someone you know might be using methamphetamine, listen for some of the above slang terms. Someone using any of these words above are most likely talking about methamphetamine. They may or may not be using it but they’re almost without a doubt referring to it.
The Chemistry of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is structurally similar to some naturally-occurring substances, such as phenethylamine. This substance is in foods like cheese, chocolate, and some wines. It has very minimal lasting effects because the body quickly breaks the substance down after it’s ingested.
Amphetamines, on the other hand, are intentionally manufactured and made to amplify the effects of these natural substances. While phenethylamine breaks down quickly after entering the system, amphetamine does not.
There is a methyl group added to amphetamine that keeps it from degrading in the way that phenethylamine does. Instead, this resistance to degradation allows amphetamine to enter and remain in the bloodstream. Then the effects of these substances can directly affect the user.
Methamphetamine adds another methyl group to the already-resistant amphetamine. This amplifies the effects of amphetamine even more. Meth also resists degradation in order to enter and remain in the bloodstream much like its counterpart does. Its effects last much longer than either phenethylamine or amphetamine because of its additional resistance to degradation.
This more powerful amphetamine is the same illicit methamphetamine available on the streets. Its powerful effects keep people hooked to running on meth binges and coming back for more.
Different Types of Meth
This incredibly potent, addictive drug comes in the form of a crystalline substance. Although meth is most often clear or white in color, sometimes it might be yellow, blue, or brown depending on the batch. While some people purchase methamphetamine in its more “pure” crystal or shard form, much of the drug that’s available has already been crushed into a powder.
There are a few different ways users can ingest methamphetamine:
- Snort it once it’s been crushed down into a powder
- Smoke it from a meth pipe, either in its crystal or crushed powder form
- Swallow it if it’s been crushed into a pill form
- Inject it with a needle intravenously (IV) after cooking it down in water
Most people start using meth either by smoking or snorting it but might move to IV use after their addiction progresses. Methamphetamine use leads to serious health problems over time but injecting meth significantly increases the chance of developing dangerous or deadly health complications as time goes on.
No matter which type of meth you use or way you use it, you still put yourself at risk of extreme health conditions or death. There is no safe way to use methamphetamine. It’s a dangerous, addictive drug that is never worth the risk involved with using it.
Which Drugs Contain Methamphetamine?
Despite the seeming shift away from using it medicinally, a prescription methamphetamine medication still exists. Doctors use Desoxyn, a legal methamphetamine, to treat severe cases of conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and obesity. It’s only prescribed when other options prove ineffective.
Although they aren’t methamphetamine, tamer amphetamine prescriptions exist that still produce similar stimulating and appetite suppressing effects. Adderall and Ritalin are two of the most common prescription amphetamines available, also used to treat ADHD and other sleeping problems.
Where Did Methamphetamine Come From?
The methamphetamine first synthesized in the early 1900s is not the same as the drug used on the street today. It didn’t always have the same reputation that it does today either. Ephedrine, the base of amphetamine and methamphetamine, was a wonder drug when early scientists first discovered it. It was widely available to the public in various forms until after 1970.
Ephedrine on its own is an incredibly helpful medication. But issues arise when people abuse it, similar to other prescription drugs like opioids. Additionally, when people branch off and create stronger versions of these drugs they exacerbate the issue and put people in greater danger. The methamphetamine seen today falls into this category.
What led methamphetamine to develop into its current state?
Where did methamphetamine originate?
Methamphetamine originates with the ephedra plant, a shrub found throughout different parts of the world. Ephedra was similar to many other natural plant remedies during the time before intentionally-manufactured pharmaceutical medicines. Areas from China to the Americas used it for years as a natural treatment for congestion, cough, and breathing difficulties.
The late 1800s marked the years that researchers began isolating the active ingredients in these plants. Coca leaves produced cocaine, the incredible newfound drug that Sigmund Freud wrote papers on in 1884. Japanese scientist Nagai Nagayoshi wanted to uncover the power of more isolated active ingredients from naturally-occurring plants.
1885 marked the year that Nagayoshi first extracted ephedrine, the base of amphetamine and methamphetamine, from the ephedra plant. This made the stimulating properties of the ephedra plant much more fast-acting and potent. It also encouraged researchers to synthesize even stronger versions of the drug.
When was it discovered?
Scientists created early versions of amphetamine a few years after the isolation of ephedrine. Amphetamine offered a more effective remedy for cough, congestion, and narcolepsy than the ephedra plant on its own. It also found use in early versions of asthmatic inhalers to help clear airways and encourage easier breathing.
Then one of Nagayoshi’s successors, Akira Ogata, took the evolution of ephedrine even further. His research and experimentation led to the synthesization of the first version of crystal methamphetamine in the year 1919. His crystalline version of methamphetamine was the strongest version of ephedrine yet.
A German pharmaceutical company latched onto Ogata’s creation and developed Pervitin a few decades later. Pervitin was a non prescription brand of methamphetamine pills popular especially during the World War II era. Germany and Japan, as well as Britain and the US, dosed their troops with speed to help fend off fatigue during the height of the war.
In addition to methamphetamine’s stimulating effects, it also acts as an artificial adrenaline boost. This leads not only to increased awakeness and alertness but also a greater inclination to take risks. These effects encouraged Japanese military leaders to dose their kamikaze pilots with the drug before sending them on suicide missions.
Methamphetamine became increasingly available to the public following the end of World War II. Intravenous meth injection, or IV meth use, became a widespread problem in Japan when military supplies were released for public use. It started making its way into the lives of everyday individuals in other countries as well.
When was methamphetamine introduced to the US?
The United States used its own versions of methamphetamine to keep soldiers awake and alert during the war. After the war, though, pharmaceutical companies found various ways to package the drug for public use. They focused on various side effects and marketed these aspects to treat different conditions.
For example, speed is an appetite suppressant which made it a perfect candidate for people looking for diet pills to slim down. Doctors also used the stimulating effects to treat symptoms of depression in some of their patients. Ultimately, the drug was widely available and nonmedical use of methamphetamine increased drastically as time passed.
Truck drivers, athletes, and college students alike found help in methamphetamine and drug abuse became a growing problem throughout the country. Benzedrine, commonly called “bennies,” were a popular drug among the Beatnik generation. Writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Borroughs used speed to encourage their creativity.
Once injectable methamphetamine made its way into the United States and exacerbated the problem. This encouraged the US government to finally step in and outlaw the drug in 1971. The government restriction ignited a market for the illegal production and distribution of meth, closer to the dangerous and toxic version of the drug known today.
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What is Methamphetamine Used For?
Methamphetamine is mostly known for its use as a recreational drug. The stimulating, euphoric effects make it a popular choice for those who can’t afford the high price tag of cocaine. Use of meth causes a number of pleasurable side effects, whether the user snorts it, smokes it, or injects it. These effects are long-lasting which makes them a favored option in some circles.
Additionally, there are still some doctors who prescribe meth for medical use. There is a legal version of methamphetamine still available to the public on a prescription basis. It isn’t often the first choice for doctors when they offer medications to their patients but finds use in certain situations for specific cases.
Methamphetamine for Medical Use
Methamphetamine for medical use isn’t as popular as other amphetamine drugs. Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are some of the most popular prescription amphetamines in use today. These drugs help treat cases like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep problems such as narcolepsy, and those who need help with weight loss.
Doctors use Desoxyn, the prescription version of methamphetamine, as an alternative to the more common amphetamines. Sometimes patients experience adverse side effects when they take prescriptions like Adderall or Ritalin. In these cases, doctors might prescribe Desoxyn because it causes fewer side effects and impacts brain functions more directly.
Even though it’s a legal prescription medication, Desoxyn is still methamphetamine. It comes with a high potential for misuse and abuse if not monitored closely. Doctors are extremely careful when deciding whether to prescribe it. The medication is still a Schedule II narcotic with the Drug Enforcement Administration despite its use as a prescription drug.
Illegal Uses of Methamphetamine
Up until 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration still categorized methamphetamine with prescription stimulants. Since Desoxyn is a legal and readily-available prescription stimulant, they quantified meth with other drugs in that category. After 2015, though, they recognized that the majority of meth use in the United States is illicit use.
Effects of Meth Use
The effects of meth come on quickly no matter how the user ingests the drug. Injecting meth intravenously introduces the drug directly to the user’s bloodstream. It’s the quickest way to get the strongest effects possible. Smoking meth also causes a sudden rush of euphoria in the same way that injecting it does. Snorting the drug doesn’t produce the same rush but does result in a euphoric high within only a few minutes.
Increased energy levels and talkativeness are two of the main side effects of methamphetamine use. It causes extreme bursts of energy that last for hours at a time and reduces fatigue. Meth is much stronger and its effects last much longer, between 6 and 24 hours. This makes it a more popular choice than its counterpart, cocaine, for people looking to stay higher for a longer period of time.
Meth use also causes extreme euphoria and a feeling of invincibility. This means the user feels great while using it but also has a greater chance of making some risky or dangerous decisions. They are more likely to make decisions while under the influence of meth that they would never make while clean and clear-headed.
How People Use Meth
People often use methamphetamine in a binge pattern. In order to avoid coming down from their meth high they’ll continue using. The sleeplessness and insomnia side effects keep users for days at a time. Meth’s effects on appetite also cause users to eat and drink very little during this period of time. Eventually their body can no longer keep up with the meth binge and they “crash” or come down.
There are certain subcultures that incorporate meth as a party drug. The reduced inhibitions and increased risk taking caused by meth encourage promiscuity among people who use it. This increases the risk of other side effects such as STDs.
Despite the stronger and longer-lasting effects of methamphetamine, it’s still not very widely used. It’s on the lower end of the top used illicit drugs in the United States with just about three-quarters of a million active users. That’s about 0.3 percent of the population ages 12 and older actively using methamphetamine.
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Addiction to Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine misuse and abuse is a serious problem throughout the United States. Although opioids often take the national spotlight for their impact on the population, meth holds its place as well. According to research from the Drug Enforcement Administration, it is involved in the majority of drug-related violent crime cases throughout the country.
Meth lowers inhibitions and severely impacts decision-making skills while supplying users with a sudden surge of energy. Extreme euphoria and excitement coupled with poor impulse control can only lead to negative outcomes. People severely addicted to drugs will do almost anything to secure their next fix. Methamphetamine arms users with the courage to seek out the means to do so.
US Statistics About Meth Addiction
Up until 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) pooled the data collected on methamphetamine use in with the prescription stimulants category. Since amphetamine is commonly used in prescription medications, researchers considered the two closely related. Use of methamphetamine alone started spiking again in 2011 which led them to reconsider.
Thankfully, the NSDUH finally separated the two categories which helps paint a clearer picture on the true impact of illicit meth consumption on the population in the United States. In 2017, about 774,000 people ages 12 and older reported being active meth users, or roughly 0.3 percent of the population within this age range.
While the number of active users might seem small, the amount of people who tried methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime is much larger. More than 14.7 million people ages 12 and older, or about 5.4 percent of that population, have tried meth at one point during their lifetime.
Despite the separation of the two drug categories, though, a large gap in sufficient studies of methamphetamine use still exists. Perhaps the decline in use between 2005 and 2010 misled researchers into thinking the drug was no longer as serious of a problem. As use continues trending upward post-2011, though, researchers must continue funding additional studies.
Why is Meth Addictive?
Everyone understands that drugs are addictive. They start off making people feel good, which encourages them to take more drugs to achieve more of the desired effect. How is it that methamphetamine has such an intense impact on the brain, though? What makes it such a powerful and addictive stimulant?
Methamphetamine interacts directly with the “pleasure center” of the brain and alters levels of naturally-occurring dopamine. Normal brain functions regulate dopamine levels to provide consistent and regular levels of reward-based excitement throughout the day. Introducing the drug into your system sends these natural balances completely out of control.
Ingesting meth causes the brain to release massive surges of dopamine all at once. Instead of the dopamine clearing out at its normal rate, though, the drug creates a buildup of it in the user’s brain. The massive stockpile of dopamine produces feelings of excitement and euphoria that meth is known for.
Human brains are wired to seek things that stimulate the reward pathways. Since meth has such an intense influence on the brain’s reward system, it encourages users to repeat the process again and again. The strength of methamphetamine keeps users coming back for more, oftentimes regardless of the impact it has on everything else in their life.
Does the Way You Use Meth Make a Difference?
Again, there are a few different ways to use methamphetamine: snorting it, smoking it, and injecting it. Snorting it is a quick and effective way for meth users to get the drug into their system. It doesn’t produce as strong of an effect as the other methods but it requires no additional equipment; they can simply crush it and snort it.
Smoking and injecting methamphetamine cause a much more intense high at a much more rapid pace. These methods create the massive dopamine buildup in the quickest manner. Addicts usually want to get as high as possible as quickly as they can. And while meth isn’t necessarily “more addictive” when a user smokes or injects it instead of snorts it, the more intense rush they feel becomes the thing they chase.
Where Can You Treat Meth Addiction?
Addiction treatment facilities exist specifically to help people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Their goal is to help those with substance use disorders get clean and sober. Through a combination of therapy, groups, and activities, clients learn to live a life free from drugs and alcohol one day at a time.
After successfully separating them from substances, they help clients reintegrate into society again. Some facilities help their clients update their resumes, find jobs, or get back into school. They prepare people for living a life without relying on the crutch of drugs and alcohol to get by. There are a few different levels of addiction treatment people can attend.
Detox exists to help people separate from methamphetamine and other drugs. After using for months or years at a time, their body develops a dependence on these substances. Detox eases the withdrawal process, or the first few days after quitting all drugs. Clinicians ease the transition away from drugs and into the next phase of treatment.
Inpatient rehab offers the most programming of all three remaining levels of addiction treatment. People receive between 6 and 8 hours of programming, 5 days per week. Clients receive a combination of individual and group therapy, activities, and education. They are also required to stay at the facility or at an offsite sober house overnight.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
Partial hospitalization programs, or PHP for short, are a step down from inpatient rehab. They offer a similar amount of treatment hours with similar programming during the day. Programs focus on relapse prevention methods and coping skills, just like the focus of an inpatient program. The main difference is that clients are not required to stay overnight at the facility.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Intensive outpatient programs, or IOP for short, require the least amount of programming during the week. Sessions take place between 2 and 3 hours, 3 to 5 days per week. Clinicians focus mainly on maintaining sobriety at this point as most people in IOP attended inpatient or PHP beforehand. Some also help with the transition back into everyday life and regular society.
How Can You Treat Meth Addiction?
Treating meth addiction is a bit different than treating other substance use disorders. For example, treating opioid addiction is rather straightforward today. The introduction of medication-assisted treatment made it easier to help people addicted to heroin and painkillers.
On the other hand, methamphetamine addiction is more challenging to treat because there are no medications dedicated to treating meth addiction. Doctors can’t prescribe anything specifically for treating substance use disorders related to amphetamines.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to recover from meth addiction, though. Any treatment facility will accept people struggling with amphetamine use disorders assuming they want to get clean. Medications aren’t the only way to quit using drugs.
The best way to help people recover from meth addiction is through a combination of treatment methods. Rather than relying on a single type of treatment, people see the best results when using multiple methods alongside one another.
Therapy is a fundamental way to work with people who struggle with methamphetamine addiction. There are many different types of methods that professionals use to work with their clients. The method they select depends on how severe the person’s addiction is as well as the other treatment methods they’re using.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most tried and true methods of therapy in use today. It helps a wide variety of clients from those with mental illness to those recovering from addiction. Therapists aim to adjust unhealthy behaviors by correcting a person’s false beliefs and negative thought patterns.
They hope to reduce relapse by working through the thoughts that cause people to use drugs in the first place. By adjusting these thought patterns they see a change in behavior as a result. This usually means lower rates of relapse and a better overall standard of living.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another helpful therapy method. It’s a sub-type of cognitive behavioral therapy created for high-risk clients like addicts or people with suicidal ideation. DBT focuses specifically on cultivating healthier coping skills instead of the person’s usual methods of getting by.
DBT takes place in both individual and group sessions. Some people opt for only one or the other while others use a blend of the two. They receive homework assignments, such as practicing mindfulness exercises, then report back to their therapist or the group. Sessions last about two hours and take place weekly over the course of six months.
Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy involves the use of live animals to help people lower their walls. Different treatment facilities use different animals, including rabbits, dogs, horses, and even dolphins. Animals tend to have calming effects on most people and incorporating them into therapy usually creates a more comfortable environment.
Some people don’t consider animal assisted therapy to be a “real” form of therapy. Many see positive results in their ability to open up to others, though. It should also be used in conjunction with another form of therapy as well as other treatment methods.
12-step programs are another popular option to help people recover from methamphetamine addiction. While some have difficulties with parts of these programs, others find a brand new life in 12-step recovery. These programs offer a free alternative to addiction treatment for those who don’t have the option of going to treatment.