The Hard Truth Behind Methamphetamine Addiction
What are Amphetamines and Methamphetamine?
Amphetamine is a stimulant drug with a wide range of uses in medicine. Doctors prescribe amphetamine to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, obesity, and a range of other conditions, including nasal congestion and even depression. Amphetamine, which works by stimulating the central nervous system, is available in many different formations under a variety of brand names. It is also a popular recreational drug. When individuals take amphetamine, they experience euphoria, improved cognitive and physical performance, and increased libido. Users who take amphetamine for recreational purposes generally take far larger doses than doctors prescribe. As a result, addiction is a serious risk.
Amphetamine is a member of a class of organic compounds called phenethylamine. It is composed of two enantiomers, levoamphetamine and dextroamphetamine. A wide variety of amphetamine-based pharmaceutical products are available for patients. Some of these, such as Adderall, contain combinations of both enantiomers, whereas some only contain one. While amphetamine properly refers to a free base of both enantiomers, the word is colloquially used to refer to any psychoactive substance containing one or more. Most amphetamines on the market today are not in fact composed of free base amphetamine, but rather amphetamine in salt form, which is less volatile. The most common formations of amphetamine come in tablets, capsules, and liquid. Unfortunately, despite being a perfectly legal and oft-prescribed substance, prescription stimulants are often misused and distributed on the black market. Recreational users often crush tablets, smoke or snort the powder, dissolve it in water, and even inject it.
Users who take amphetamine to get high do so because of the euphoric and focus-boosting effects. They work by increasing the brain’s production of two chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine. Increased dopamine activity provides a feeling of intense pleasure. However, the presence of dopamine at high levels also causes users to become quickly physically dependent on the drug. Norepinephrine exerts effects on breathing, blood vessels, heart rate, and blood pressure. At low doses, the decreased blood flow and rapid heart rate that users experience is likely to be a minor. Unfortunately, at the high doses common among recreational users, adverse effects are far more likely. Side effects include irregular heart rate, heart failure, and even seizures. Over time, many recreational users experience paranoia, mood issues, and psychosis. It is also possible to overdose on an amphetamine.
Methamphetamine is a popular recreational drug with a high potential for addiction. Often referred to merely as “meth,” this stimulant drug is chemically similar to amphetamine. Meth works by stimulating the central nervous system. People who take the drug do so because of the high it provides, which is characterized by surges in energy, alertness, mood, and even libido. Because the drug causes dramatic decreases in appetite, many users also abuse methamphetamine as a weight loss tool. However, the side effects of methamphetamine can be extremely dangerous for an individual’s physical and mental health, and physical dependence can occur very quickly for meth users. Long term meth usage can lead to catastrophic consequences and can even be fatal.
Methamphetamine is a free base chemical composed of levomethamphetamine and dextromethamphetamine. It is sometimes prescribed by medical professionals to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity, but concerns over the drug’s neurotoxicity and addictiveness have made it a last resort for doctors. Methamphetamine is most frequently available as a “street drug” in the form of crystal methamphetamine, or crystal meth. Crystal meth, so named because of its rock crystal-like appearance, has the appearance of blueish-white glass shards. Recreational users take meth using a variety of routes of administration, including smoking, snorting, and injecting. Recreational users face different risks depending on their method of taking meth, but no method of ingesting meth mitigates the dangers of this harmful drug.
When a person takes methamphetamine, the high begins extremely quickly. The first 30 minutes of the meth high is notable for a feeling that many users refer to as a “rush,” characterized by a rapid heart rate, faster metabolism, and soaring blood pressure. As the high progresses, individuals often experience feelings of euphoria, improved mood and well-being, increased concentration and focus, surges of energy, and increased confidence. Methamphetamine can also increase libido.
During a methamphetamine high, users often become energetically focused on one narrow activity, ranging from sex to cleaning. Many users relish the focus, energy, and sense of intense productivity that comes from abusing meth. However, the high does not last long and is followed immediately by a “crash,” during which users experience the inverse of the effects they enjoyed during the high. In order to delay withdrawal and prevent the associated crash, many people abuse methamphetamine in a pattern known as binging. Binging on methamphetamine not only exacerbates the adverse health consequences, it also sets users up for physical dependency and addiction.
Amphetamine and Methamphetamine History
Amphetamine was first developed in Germany in 1887 by a Romanian chemist named Lazăr Edeleanu. However, the stimulating effects of the drug went unnoticed until 1927 when an American chemist named Gordon Alles resynthesized the drug. In 1933, the pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline, and French began marketing amphetamine under the brand name Benzedrine. Benzedrine, which began as a decongestant in inhaler form, shortly became a popular drug prescribed for a variety of conditions, from narcolepsy to chronic pain.
Meanwhile, in 1893 a Japanese chemist named Nagai Nagayoshi synthesized methamphetamine from ephedrine. In 1919, methamphetamine was synthesized in its popular crystal form, otherwise known as methamphetamine hydrochloride.
During World War II, both amphetamine and methamphetamine were widely used by the militaries of both the Allied and Axis sides. They provided military personnel with amphetamine and methamphetamine because of the drugs’ performance-enhancing effects. A Berlin-based pharmaceutical company produced methamphetamine in tablet form and sold it as Pervitin to all branches of the Third Reich, where it was used as a stimulant to promote wakefulness. Unfortunately, the military soon discovered that both amphetamine and methamphetamine brought with them a number of negative side effects. Soldiers often became paranoid and violent under the drugs’ influence, and many took days to recover after going into combat while medicated. After the addictive nature of these substances was recognized, most militaries and governments attempted to further regulate the drugs and control distribution more tightly.
Nonetheless, both amphetamine and methamphetamine remained popular both as recreational drugs and as medications. In the 1950s, Obetrol, a pharmaceutical methamphetamine product made to treat obesity, became enormously popular in part because of its psychological side effects. Many people unintentionally became addicted to methamphetamine as a result. Amphetamine in the form of Benzedrine (often referred to as Bennies) also had a profound influence on the Beat Generation and its literary movement in the 1950s. The drug is referenced throughout Jack Kerouak’s novel On the Road as well as in the works of Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
In the early 1970s, the United States classified both amphetamine and methamphetamine as Schedule II substances. While methamphetamine is still sold as a medication under the brand name Desoxyn, its use is generally discouraged due to its neurotoxicity, addictiveness, and the wide availability of safer alternatives. Nonetheless, methamphetamine remains a popular street drug for recreational users. Amphetamine continues to enjoy enormous popularity as a medication. Like amphetamine, however, it is widely abused and sometimes illicitly synthesized in clandestine labs.
Amphetamine and Methamphetamine Street Names
While amphetamine and to some extent methamphetamine are often known by their prescription medication brand names, when they are illicitly produced or distributed for recreational purposes they are often known by a variety of alternative names. Black market vendors use code names to avoid being detected by law enforcement agencies. Colloquial street names for drugs are always changing with the trends of drug culture. While more terms of amphetamine and methamphetamine are always emerging, the following in a non-exhaustive list of common street names for the drugs: