“From a chemical perspective, methamphetamine is amphetamine with a methyl group, if you’re interested in the science of it. It’s pretty much like a high-octane gasoline versus a low-octane gasoline. Methamphetamine, of course, is the high-octane version.”—Rob Bovett, Oregon Narcotics Enforcement
Facts about Methamphetamine (aka Speed):
- Methamphetamine is part of a class of drugs, called amphetamines, that are categorized as central nervous system stimulants. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. Because the drug exerts powerful stimulating effects in the brain, you may also hear them referred to as psycho-stimulants. In addition to stimulating the brain, the drug can also stimulate other parts of the body, via the spinal cord. For example, amphetamines can affect the heart, resulting in an increased heart rate and increased blood pressure. Methamphetamine is, considerably, more potent than other drugs of this class.
- Methamphetamine is actually a legal medication, that can be prescribed by a health care provider. One example is Desoxyn (methamphetamine hydrochloride), which is usually only prescribed to treat severe cases of morbid obesity. On the other hand, the “street drug” typically referred to as “Meth”, is dreadfully different than prescription methamphetamines. “Street Meth” is a more concentrated form of methamphetamine. It also includes many volatile, and dangerous, chemicals that are not found in prescription methamphetamine. Chemicals found in the street drug can include substances such as: battery acid, paint thinner, antifreeze, acetone, and even drain cleaner!
- The methamphetamines, sold on the street, have customarily been referred to as “meth”, “speed”, “uppers”, “ice,” “glass,” or “crystal”. New slang terms, for illicit drugs, often change frequently.
- Methamphetamine can be ingested orally, “snorted” (inhaled through the nose), injected, or smoked. The powdered form of the drug is most commonly ingested, injected, or snorted. The crystallized form of the drug, that looks like clear crystal rocks, is generally smoked.
- This page will mainly focus on the “street drug” form of methampetamines. For more information about prescription amphetamine and methamphetamine medications CLICK HERE.
- Methamphetamine, along with the other amphetamines, were initially developed for therapeutic purposes during the 1940’s. The drugs were used to treat a variety of ailments, such as asthma, obesity, and depression. They were also used by several countries, during World War II, to enhance the performance of their soldiers (Carson-DeWitt, 2001).
- During the late 1960’s to 1970’s, the drug started to catch on as a drug of abuse. Abusers of the drug also discovered that the effects would be more pronounced if the drug was injected. Shortly thereafter, a street form of the drug began showing up that caught the attention of law enforcement and drug treatment professionals (Wolkoff, 1996).
- The 1990’s saw a tremendous increase in the use of methamphetamines. In 1993, the government passed laws that placed restrictions on the sale of ephedrine (one of the key ingredients in “Meth”), and required retailers of products containing ephedrine to register with the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as keep strict records recording sale of the drug. In addition, there was an implied responsibility to report “suspicious” purchases of ephedrine products to authorities. However, the new law did not limit the sale of pseudoephedrine pills (another ingredient that can be used to make meth).
- Pseudoephedrine is often the main ingredient in many cold medications. Pseudoephedrine can replace ephedrine, in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. So this legislation, restricting ephedrine, regrettably did not do much to decrease the manufacturing of the drug (Pennal, 2006).
- Consequently, the “Meth cooks” simply switched from using ephedrine to pseudoephedrine. There were no legal regulations associated with pseudoephedrine. Not yet anyway. Furthermore, the switch to pseudoephedrine actually opened up a myriad of dangers to the public.
- The pseudoephedrine pills have to be “broken down” to withdraw the main ingredients needed to make the meth. This isolation process requires the manufacturers to use highly flammable, and hazardous chemicals, in order to retrieve the main chemical, used to make meth, from the pseudoephedrine tablets. This process obviously created grave dangers, that still exist today.
- The hazardous meth labs, are highly vulnerable to explosion, and have the potential to leak toxic fumes, that can cause injury to non-suspecting people who may unknowingly be living in the vicinity of a meth lab. There are various steps in the meth manufacturing process, in addition to isolating the needed ingredients from the pseudoephedrine, that can create disastrous results. Several steps in the multifarious process of manufacturing meth involve dangerous chemicals that can cause injury by explosion, contact with the chemicals, or inhalation of the fumes.
- The picture on the left shows a more sophisticated meth lab. The picture on the right is representative of a “home lab”, that people often use to create small quantities of meth. The manufacturing process, in either of these types of meth labs, can have equally catastrophic results that have the potential to cause serious injury. Alarmingly, the small “home labs” are often easily concealed, which leaves anyone vulnerable to, unexpectedly, living next door to a meth lab.
- CLICK HERE (CBS NEWS METH LAB EXPLOSION) to watch video footage of what happens when a real meth lab explodes, the lab was apparently a mobile meth lab caught on camera by an officer’s dash cam.
- The DEA reports the number of meth lab “incidents” in 2012 was well over 11,000 (HRF, 2015). Additional researchers, looked at data from five states. According to the reports, from just five states, there were a total of 1,325 meth-related chemical incidents from 2001 to 2012. The total number of injuries related to these incidents include 162 people (26 were children). There were two deaths reported, one was a “meth cook” and the other was a law enforcement officer. Among the 162 injured, 36 adults needed to be hospitalized, as well as 19 children. The most commonly reported injuries were respiratory irritation, burns, eye irritation, and skin irritation (CDC & Department of Health, 2013). Remember this data only includes the injuries reported among 5 states. If data was collected from all states, the numbers would be astronomical. Meth is a public health hazard!
- In 2006, The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was signed, which bans over-the-counter sales of cold medicines, that contain the active ingredient pseudoephedrine. Unfortunately, despite increased efforts to reduce the spread of methamphetamine, it’s use has continued to increase to epidemic proportions. Drug manufacturers generally find a way to get around new legislation created to curb the use of a drug. This is why education, awareness, and reduced stigma related to substance use disorders, combined together with affordable, mutli-modal, and effective, treatment programs are essential in reducing drug abuse.
- Substance use disorders have been recognized as a disease, and need to be treated as such. Drug abuse does not only affect the user, it affects our entire society, in a number of ways. The drug suppliers will always find a way to create, and distribute the drugs, as long a there are people who are willing to buy them. Therefore, it truly would benefit society, as a whole, to focus on education, prevention, and improving treatment for substance use disorders.
Effects of Methamphetamine on the Body and Brain:
- Methamphetamine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. “Meth” is a very potent stimulant that makes the user feel wide awake, as if their bodies are racing. The drug also can provide the user with an increased sense of fearlessness, and increased confidence, as if they are ready to take on the world. These effects generally lasts from a few hours to 24 hours. However, the user generally continues using the drug, for up to a few days at a time, to the point of reaching paranoia and exhaustion. At this point, the user will generally “crash”, and may sleep for a long period of time.
- Our brains contain certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters can be thought of as messengers. Our brains also contain nerve cells, call neurons. When a neurotransmitter (messenger) attaches to a neuron (nerve cell) it causes the nerve cell to perform it’s individualized function. Methamphetamine alters this process significantly, in a negative way, mainly by affecting the neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine.
- Norepinephrine is part of the bodies natural fight or flight response. When we are in danger our bodies naturally increase norepinephrine, among other changes, to provide us with increased energy, and alertness, to deal with the danger. The amphetamines (or stimulant drugs) increase norepinephrine, which is what makes the user feel alert and full of energy. However, artificially putting the body in this state of “fight of flight”, at higher than normal levels, and for long periods of time can be very damaging to the body. Physical effects can include: increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, fever, headache, tremors, and nausea. The effects of making the heart work too hard can cause heart damage, and is dangerous to say the least. Psychological effects can include: restlessness, irritability, hostility, confusion, hallucinations, anxiety, and psychosis (Kaplan & Sadock, 1991).
- Dopamine is one of the brains natural “feel good” chemicals. It is what enables us to feel a sense of well-being and contentment in our lives. It’s what makes us feel happiness during “normal” pleasant events such as: spending time with our family or friends, watching a sunset, curling up on the couch with a good book, eating our favorite foods, and so forth. Methamphetamine use alters this normal function in the brain, that produces happiness, so the user is no longer able to feel enjoyment from normal life events.
- A person who’s brain chemistry has been altered by methamphetamine feels that the only way to feel happy, is by consuming more of the drug. The drug than artificially provides increased dopamine, and the person feels euphoric and content, briefly, until the drug wears off. Than unhappy again, which leads to feeling a need to take more of the drug. This is the cycle of addiction.
- Because methamphetamine is a very potent drug, especially the street drug form, it quickly leads to addiction, and is especially hard to stop. In addition, a tolerance to the drug happens very quickly, which means the person will require higher and higher quantities of the drug to get the same effect. Eventually, a point comes where they can no longer feel the euphoria they used to feel. At this point, the person is basically taking the drug to prevent withdrawal, if they don’t take the drug they won’t just feel unhappy, they will feel miserable.
- Other physical problems from using methamphetamine can include: cellulitis (swelling of tissues related to injecting drugs), abscesses or sores at injection sites, scabs on any part of the body (users often hallucinate that bugs are under their skin and will pick at their skin until the scabs form), psychosis, as well as many additional uncomfortable symptoms, and negative health problems. For example, chronic use of meth causes faster aging, as you often see in before and after pictures of meth users. Meth damages tiny blood vessels, which affect the body’s ability to repair tissue, leaving the user with damaged looking and aged skin.
- A very noticeable adverse effect of using meth is very severe tooth decay, (also known as “meth mouth”). When your mouth is dry, from lack of saliva, the teeth become highly prone to erosion of tooth enamel and damage to the gums. Meth severely dries out the salivary glands in the mouth, which leaves the teeth highly vulnerable to decay, and often loss of teeth. In addition, when people use meth they often grind their teeth, which further increases the damage leaving users highly susceptible to rotting teeth, often called “meth mouth”.
- It is not worth it to ever try the drug methamphetamine, it is dangerous, and the pictures shown are not exaggerations of the results that can occur from using this drug. If you are already addicted to methamphetamine, please use the resources below, or other addiction help services to get treatment. You may always contact me personally, using the CONTACT FORM, if you need help getting treatment started. I will do the best I can to help you find treatment options in your area.
Resources for help:
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction. Please reach out for help.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1 (800) 662 HELP
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)Website
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
- Intervention Resource Center: 1 (888) 421 4321
- List of Helplines and Crisis Hotlines
Bovett, R. (2006). Interview with Rob Bovett: Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth/interviews/bovett.html
Carson-DeWitt, R. (2001). Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol & Addictive Behavior (2nd ed., Vol. 1 (A-D)). Durham, NC: Macmillan.f
Health Research Funding [HRF]. (2015). 18 fascinating meth lab explosion statistics. Retrieved from https://healthresearchfunding.org/18-fasinating-meth-lab-explosion-statistics/
Kaplin, H. & Sadock, B. (1991). Synopsis of psychiatry: Behavioral sciences, clinical psychiatry (6th ed.). Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
Wolkoff, D. (1997). Methamphetamine abuse: an overview for health care professionals. Hawaii Medical Journal Feb;56(2):34-6.