What Is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that dramatically affects the central nervous system. The drug is made easily in clandestine laboratories with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. These factors combine to make methamphetamine a drug with high potential for widespread abuse.

Methamphetamine is commonly known as "speed," "meth," and "chalk." In its smoked form it is often referred to as "ice," "crystal," "crank," and "glass." It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. The drug was developed early in the 20th century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Methamphetamine's chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine, but it has more pronounced effects on the central nervous system. Like amphetamine, it causes increased activity, decreased appetite, and a general sense of well-being. The effects of methamphetamine can last 6 to 8 hours. After the initial "rush," there is typically a state of high agitation that in some individuals can lead to violent behavior.

Methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant, which means it has a high potential for abuse and is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. There are a few accepted medical reasons for its use, such as the treatment of narcolepsy, attention deficit disorder, and — for short-term use — obesity; but these medical uses are limited.

Effects of Methamphetamine

As a powerful stimulant, methamphetamine or crystal meth, even in small doses, can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. A brief, intense sensation, or rush, is reported by those who smoke or inject methamphetamine. Oral ingestion or snorting produces a long-lasting high instead of a rush, which reportedly can continue for as long as half a day. Both the rush and the high are believed to result from the release of very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine into areas of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure.

Short-term effects can include:

- Increased attention and decreased fatigue
- Increased activity
- Decreased appetite
- Euphoria and rush
- Increased respiration
- Hyperthermia

Long-term effects can include:

- Dependence and addiction psychosis
- Paranoia
- Hallucinations
- Mood disturbances
- Repetitive motor activity
- Stroke
- Weight loss

How Methamphetamine Is Consumed

Methamphetamine comes in many forms and can be smoked, snorted, orally ingested, or injected. The drug alters moods in different ways, depending on how it is taken.

Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it intravenously, the user experiences an intense rush or "flash" that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria -- a high but not an intense rush. Snorting produces effects within 3 to 5 minutes, and oral ingestion produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.

As with similar stimulants, methamphetamine most often is used in a "binge and crash" pattern. Because tolerance for methamphetamine occurs within minutes — meaning that the pleasurable effects disappear even before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly — users try to maintain the high by binging on the drug.

In the 1980's, "ice," a smokable form of methamphetamine, came into use. Ice is a large, usually clear crystal of high purity that is smoked in a glass pipe like crack cocaine. The smoke is odorless, leaves a residue that can be resmoked, and produces effects that may continue for 12 hours or more.

How Is Methamphetamine Different from other Stimulants like Cocaine?

Methamphetamine is classified as a psychostimulant as are such other drugs of abuse as amphetamine and cocaine. We know that methamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine and the neurotransmitter dopamine, but it is quite different from cocaine. Although these stimulants have similar behavioral and physiological effects, there are some major differences in the basic mechanisms of how they work at the level of the nerve cell. However, the bottom line is that methamphetamine, like cocaine, results in an accumulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and this excessive dopamine concentration appears to produce the stimulation and feelings of euphoria experienced by the user.

In contrast to cocaine, which is quickly removed and almost completely metabolized in the body, methamphetamine has a much longer duration of action and a larger percentage of the drug remains unchanged in the body. This results in methamphetamine being present in the brain longer, which ultimately leads to prolonged stimulant effects.

The vapors of the freebase are absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and transported to the brain within 10-15 seconds. One inhalation will produce a degree of intoxication usually lasting 10-15 minutes.

Source: NIDA Methamphetamine 

Effects of Methamphetamine on the Brain

Dopamine plays an important role in the regulation of pleasure. In addition to other regions, dopamine is manufactured in nerve cells within the ventral tegmental area and is released in the nucleus accumbens and the frontal cortex. It appears that the drug stimulates excess release of dopamine, contributing to the effects on the user.

Effective Treatment Options for Methamphetamine or Crystal Meth Abusers

At this time the most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction are cognitive behavioral interventions. These approaches are designed to help modify the patient's thinking, expectancies, and behaviors and to increase skills in coping with various life stressors. Methamphetamine recovery support groups also appear to be effective adjuncts to behavioral interventions that can lead to long-term drug-free recovery.

There are some established protocols that emergency room physicians use to treat individuals who have had a methamphetamine overdose. Because hyperthermia and convulsions are common and often fatal complications of such overdoses, emergency room treatment focuses on the immediate physical symptoms. Overdose patients are cooled off in ice baths, and anticonvulsant drugs may be administered also.

Narconon, with its comprehensive and natural approach to substance abuse, is known to be effective to help addicts tosafely and permanently recover from all kind of drug addictions, includding methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine: a Dangerous Drug, a Spreading Threat

Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is a highly addictive drug that can be manufactured by using products commercially available anywhere in the United States and Canada. The chemicals used in producing methamphetamine are extremely volatile, and the amateur chemists running makeshift laboratories -- often in hotels or areas where children are present -- cause deadly explosions and fires. The by-products of methamphetamine production are extremely toxic. Methamphetamine traffickers display no concern about environmental hazards when it comes to manufacturing and disposing of methamphetamine and its by-products.

The effects of methamphetamine, or crystal meth, on humans are profound. The stimulant effects from methamphetamine can last for hours, instead of minutes as with crack cocaine. Often the methamphetamine user remains awake for days. As the high begins to wear off, the methamphetamine user enters a stage called "tweaking," in which he or she is prone to violence, delusions, and paranoia. Many methamphetamine users try to alleviate the effect of the methamphetamine "crash" by buffering the effects with other drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Like heroin and cocaine, methamphetamine can be snorted, smoked, or injected.

Methamphetamine History

First synthesized in 1887 Germany, amphetamine was for a long time, a drug in search of a disease. Nothing was done with the drug, from its discovery (synthesis) until the late 1920's, when it was seriously investigated as a cure or treatment against nearly everything from depression to decongestion.

In the 1930's, amphetamine was marketed as Benzedrine in an over-the-counter inhaler to treat nasal congestion (for asthmatics, hay fever sufferers, and people with colds). A probable direct reaction to the Depression and Prohibition, the drug was used and abused by non-asthmatics looking for a buzz. By 1937 amphetamine was available by prescription in tablet form.

Methamphetamine, more potent and easy to make, was discovered in Japan in 1919. The crystalline powder was soluble in water, making it a perfect candidate for injection. It is still legally produced in the U.S., sold under the trade name Desoxyn.

During World War II, amphetamines were widely used to keep the fighting men going (during the Vietnam war, American soldiers used more amphetamines than the rest of the world did during WWII). In Japan, intravenous methamphetamine abuse reached epidemic proportions immediately after World War II, when supplies stored for military use became available to the public.

In the United States in the 1950s, legally manufactured tablets of both dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methamphetamine (Methedrine) became readily available and were used non-medically by college students, truck drivers, and athletes, As use of amphetamines spread, so did their abuse. Amphetamines became a cure-all for such things as weight control to treating mild depression.

Source: NIDA Methamphetamine