In the U.S., illicit methamphetamine comes in a variety of forms, with an average price of $150 per gram of pure substance. Most commonly it is found as a colorless crystalline solid, sold on the street under the name crystal meth and a variety of other names. It is also sold as a less-pure crystalline powder called crank, or in crystalline rock form. Colourful flavored pills containing methamphetamine and caffeine are known as yaba (Thai for "crazy medicine"). At its most impure, it is sold as a crumbly brown or off-white rock commonly referred to as "peanut butter crank". Methamphetamine found on the street is rarely pure, but adulterated with chemicals that were used to synthesize it. It may be diluted or "cut" with non-psychoactive substances like inositol. It may also be cut with other psychoactive substances, but the reverse is presumably more common due to its low price relative to other common drugs.
Methamphetamine was first synthesized from ephedrine in Japan in 1893 by chemist Nagayoshi Nagai. In 1919, crystallized methamphetamine was synthesized by Akira Ogata via reduction of ephedrine using red phosphorus and iodine. The related compound Amphetamine was first synthesized in Germany in 1887 by Lazar Edeleanu.
One of the early uses of amphetamine occurred during World War II where the German Wehrmacht dispensed the stimulant known under the trade name Pervitin to troops. The drug was widely distributed not at least to elite forces like tank crews and aircraft personnel. For pilots the drug was embedded into chocolate bars, the infamous Panzerschokolade.
Adolf Hitler received three daily IV injections of amphetamines and steroids from his personal physician, Theodore Morell. After World War II, a massive supply of amphetamine, formerly stockpiled by the Japanese military, became available in Japan under the street name shabu (also Philopon, its tradename there.) The Japanese Ministry of Health banned it in 1951, which is thought to have added to the growing yakuza activities related to illicit drug production. Today, the Japanese underworld is still associated with the drug, although its use is discouraged by strong social taboos.
With the 1950s came a rise in the legal prescription of methamphetamine to the American public. According to the 1951 edition of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (by Arthur Grollman), it was to be prescribed for "narcolepsy, post-encephalitic parkinsonism, alcoholism, ... in certain depressive states...and in the treatment of obesity."
Meth lab.The 1960s saw the start of the significant use of clandestine manufacture to supply methamphetamine. Prior to 1983, U.S. laws prohibiting the possession of precursors and equipment for methamphetamine production were not yet in place. The recreational use of Levoamphetamine sky-rocketed in the 1980s. The December 2, 1989 edition of The Economist described San Diego, California as the "methamphetamine capital of North America."
In 1986, the U.S. government passed the Federal Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act in an attempt to combat the growing use of designer drugs. In spite of this, its use expanded throughout the rural United States, especially in the Midwest and South. Growth of methamphetamine use continues into the 21st century, and many states are considering tougher legislation.
On August 8, 2005, an issue of Newsweek devoted a cover story to methamphetamine and its abuse including criticism of the Bush administration's policies regarding meth. Newsweek blamed the administration for not devoting enough resources to education about and prevention of the drug's use. The Bush administration has countered with the position that cannabis is a dangerous 'gateway drug', so prevention of cannabis use should prevent potential abusers from trying and becoming hooked on "hard" drugs such as methamphetamine. This is known as the "stepping stone theory," or, in the UK, as the "slippery slope theory."
Meanwhile, the online magazine Slate posted an article in reaction to the Newsweek article, attacking Newsweek for failing to appropriately cite sources and data to back up the claim that this is a "new" problem.
The topic remains controversial. The most recent figures released by the Federal government indicate that contrary to public perception, methamphetamine use has actually declined nationally in recent years.
Methamphetamine is most structurally similar to methcathinone and amphetamine. In illicit production, it is commonly made by the reduction of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Most of the necessary chemicals are readily available in household products or over-the counter medicines. Synthesis is relatively simple, but most methods involve flammable and corrosive chemicals. As a result, clandestine production is often discovered due to fires caused by amateur chemists working with makeshift laboratory equipment.
Most production methods involve hydrogenation of the hydroxyl group on the ephedrine/pseudoephedrine molecule. The most common method in the United States involves red phosphorus and iodine which forms hydroiodic acid. This is a fairly dangerous process; in fact, on the Darwin Awards site, there is a story of a man who burned himself trying to conceal these chemicals. The red phosphorus production method can create phosphine gas, which is extremely toxic when breathed in. An increasingly common method utilizes a Birch reduction process, where metallic lithium is substituted for metallic sodium (due to the difficulty in obtaining metallic sodium). The Birch reduction is dangerous since the alkali metal and liquid anhydrous ammonia are both extremely reactive, and because the temperature of liquid ammonia makes it susceptible to explosive boiling when reactants are added.
Other less-common methods use other means of hydrogenation, such as hydrogen gas in the presence of a catalyst.
A completely different synthesis procedure involves creating methamphetamine by the reductive amination of phenylacetone with methylamine, both of which are currently DEA list I chemicals (as are pseudoephedrine and ephedrine). This was once the preferred method of production by motorcycle gangs in California, but DEA restrictions on the chemicals have made this an uncommon way to produce the drug today.
One of the more obvious signs of a production lab of metamphetamine in operation is the smell of a cat-urine-like odor.
When performed by individuals who are not trained chemists, methamphetamine manufacture can lead to extremely dangerous situations. For example, if the red phosphorus reaction is allowed to overheat, phosphine gas can be produced. When produced in large quantities, it usually explodes, due to autoignition from diphosphine formation caused by overheating phosphorus.
Until the early 1990s, methamphetamine was made mostly in clandestine labs run by drug traffickers in Mexico and California. These areas are still the largest producers for the U.S. market. Since then, however, authorities have discovered increasing numbers of small-scale methamphetamine labs all over the United States, mostly located in rural, suburban, or low-income areas after they blow up. The Indiana state police found 1,260 labs in 2003, compared to just 6 in 1995, although this may only be a result of increased police activity.
Recently, mobile and motel-based methamphetamine labs have caught the attention of both the news media and law enforcement agencies. The labs can cause explosions and fires, as well as expose the public to hazardous chemicals. In addition to these issues, individuals who manufacture methamphetamine are often harmed by toxic gases. Many police forces have responded by creating a specialized task force educated in responding to persons involved in methamphetamine production.
The amount of methamphetamine actually contributed to the market by small-scale labs is disputed. Large-scale labs maintained by criminal organizations continue to exist. Drug policy critics suggest that restriction of over-the-counter medication is more politically than socially motivated, and may in fact shift the balance of supply more in favor of large criminal organizations.
A wide variety of groups are involved in the distribution of methamphetamine, from the aforementioned prison gangs and motorcycle gangs to street gangs, traditional organized crime operations, and impromptu small networks made up of users. The government of North Korea is said to promote the manufacture of crystal meth, and allegedly plays a role in distribution networks throughout Asia as well as those in Australia and even in North America . Regardless, meth trafficking is not exclusively dominated by cartels along the lines of Colombian cocaine cartels or Pakistani heroin cartels.
The most commmon side effects include twitching, "jitteriness", repetitive behavior (known as "tweaking"), and jaw clenching or teeth grinding.
Methamphetamine addicts may lose their teeth abnormally fast, a condition known as "meth mouth". Similar, though far less severe symptoms have been reported in clinical use of other amphetamines, where effects are not exacerbated by a lack of oral hygiene for extended periods. Like other substances which stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, methamphetamine causes decreased production of acid-fighting saliva and increased thirst, resulting in increased risk for tooth decay, especially when thirst is quenched by high-sugar drinks.
Users may exhibit sexually compulsive behavior and may engage in sexual acts with one or more individuals. This sexual behavior is believed to have created a link between meth use and sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission, especially HIV and syphilis. This caused great concern among larger gay communities, particularly those in Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco, leading to outreach programs and rapid growth in 12-step organizations such as Crystal Meth Anonymous.
Common side effects:
Diarrhea, nausea Loss of appetite, insomnia, restlessness, tremor, jaw-clenching Agitation, compulsive fascination with repetitive tasks (Punding) Talkativeness, irritability, panic attacks Increased libido Dilated pupils Side effects associated with chronic use:
Drug craving Weight loss Withdrawal-related depression and anhedonia Erectile dysfunction ("Crystal cock") Tooth decay ("meth mouth") Amphetamine psychosis Side effects associated with overdose:
Formication (sensation of flesh crawling with bugs, with possible associated compulsive picking and infected sores) Long-term cognitive impairment (Neurotoxicity) Paranoia, delusions, hallucinations Kidney damage (from Hyperkalemia) Overdose fatalities are usually due to stroke or heart failure, but can also be caused by hyperthermia or kidney failure.
The usual route for medical use is oral administration. In recreational use it can be swallowed, snorted, smoked, dissolved in water and injected (or even without water, in what is called a dry shot), inserted anally (with or without dissolution in water), or into the urethra.  As with all addictive drugs, the potential for addiction is greater when it is delivered by methods that cause the concentration in the blood to rise quickly, principally because the effects desired by the user are felt more quickly and with a higher intensity than through a moderated delivery mechanism. In fact, studies have shown that the subjective pleasure of drug use (the reinforcing component of addiction) is proportional to the rate that the blood level of the drug increases. In general, smoking is the fastest mechanism (i.e., it causes the blood concentration to rise the most quickly in the shortest period of time as it allows the substance to travel to brain through a more direct route than intravenous injection), followed by injecting, snorting, anal insertion, and swallowing.
"Smoking" methamphetamine actually refers to vaporizing it to produce fumes, rather than burning and inhaling the resulting smoke, as with tobacco. It is commonly smoked in glass pipes, or in aluminum foil heated by a flame underneath. This method is also known as "chasing the white dragon" (as derived from the method of smoking opium known as "chasing the dragon"). There is little evidence that methamphetamine inhalation results in greater toxicity than any other route of administration. Lung damage has been reported with long-term use, but manifests in forms independent of route (pulmonary hypertension and associated complications), or limited to injection users (pulmonary emboli).
Injection is a popular method for use, but potentially carries quite serious risks. The hydrochloride salt of methamphetamine is soluble in water; injection users may use any dose from 125 mg to over a gram in one I.V. dose using a small needle. This dosage range may be fatal to non-addicts; addicts rapidly develop tolerance to the drug. Injection users often experience skin rashes (sometimes called "speed bumps") and infections at the site of injection. As with any injected drug, if a group of users shares a common needle or any type of injecting equipment without sterilization procedures, blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis can be transmitted as well.
Very little research has focused on anal insertion as a method, and anecdotal evidence of its effects is infrequently discussed, possibly due to social taboos in many cultures regarding the anus. This is often known within communities that use meth for sexual stimulation as a "booty bump" or "Keistering," and is anecdotally reported to increase sexual pleasure while the effects of the drug last. The rectum is where the majority of the drug would likely be taken up, through the mucous membranes lining its walls. (See Crystal and sex for further information on other risk factors.)
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