Amphetamines and Meth Addiction

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Part of the Complete Guide to Understanding Addiction

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What Amphetamines are: a brief history

Although amphetamines were first synthesized (invented) in 1877 by Romanian chemist Lazar Edelaneu, it was not until its properties as a central nervous stimulant (CNS) were noticed in the 1930’s that it began to be marketed as a medicine. Its first foray onto pharmacy shelves was as a nasal congestion inhaler called Benzedrine©. By 1937 it was available in tablet form and the medical establishment recommended amphetamines for a broad array of conditions including narcolepsy, childhood hyperactivity, pregnancy, asthma, and weight reduction. Its cheap production, relatively long-lasting effects and a lack of awareness of its addiction risks all contributed to its rapid growth.

Although significantly more subject to abuse, methamphetamines, first developed in Japan, are chemically and structurally very similar to amphetamines. Increased willingness to take risks, endurance, and wakefulness are all results of meth use and made it a natural choice for a battlefield drug. Japan, Germany, and the United States all distributed the drug extensively to their militaries during WWII. John F. Kennedy, by way of famed celebrity physician Max Jacobson, is reported to have utilized meth throughout his presidency to retain his youthful appearance and treat his many secret ailments.

Once its euphoric effects were recognized, amphetamines quickly became a staple of the recreational drug arena. Bennies (slang for Benzedrine) were stereotypical to the Beatnik generation in the 50’s. As an “upper”, athletes found it enhanced performance and focus. Through the 60’s and 70’s it became associated with motorcycle gangs, college students, and truck drivers, all of whom were seeking increased energy and alertness.

The following decade brought the discovery that ephedrine, a chemical found in many over the counter cold medications, can be made into meth. In a back and forth battle between meth cooks and the federal government, as soon as an ingredient was regulated, another was found. Paint thinners, battery acid, and acetone were all used in production. As flammables were added to break down ephedrine pills, the stereotype of exploding backyard labs emerged.

Much of the meth distributed in the US originates from Mexican drug trafficking organizations. On a smaller scale, homemade meth in clandestine labs is also quite prevalent.

By the time the 90’s rolled around, meth addiction was recognized as an epidemic and in 2006 the UN World Drug Report called it the most abused hard drug in the world. Although its use overall in the US has decreased steadily since, it is still the number one abused drug in many areas of the country.

Both amphetamines and methamphetamines are Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) which means it has an accepted medical use but has high addiction and abuse potential. Amphetamines are more commonly found in the medical field, such as Ritalin and Adderall. Licit meth use is rarer and only found in a handful of obesity medications
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What Amphetamines and Meth are Called on the Street

  • Bennies
  • Black Beauties
  • Black Mollies
  • Greenies
  • Speed
  • Benz
  • Beans
  • Tens
  • Zoomers
  • Uppers
  • Crystal Meth or Glass
  • Crank
  • Chalk
  • Ice
  • Cookies
  • Pookie
  • Junk
  • Christina
  • Stove Top
  • Quartz

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What Amphetamines and Meth Looks, Tastes, and Smells Like

Amphetamines usually come in pill or powder form. When illegally produced, it can come packaged in aluminum foil or small balloons. Although in its pure state it has no odor, when distilled to powder it carries a strong smell, due to dissolvent chemicals used to break it down. It has a distinctly bitter taste.

Meth in most cases comes in a crystalized odorless white powder. It is soluble and has a bitter taste. It is also found in the form of pills and its colors can vary. It has been reported as brown, pink, orange and gray. Less common but still available on the street is an oily paste known as meth base.

The other popularly ingested form of the drug is crystal meth. Meth is extracted from cold medications or other substances containing the chemical ephedrine and heated with acid. It forms shiny crystals resembling glass or ice. Since the advent of the TV show Breaking Bad “ice” has been found with blue tint, purportedly to mimic protagonist Walter White’s discovery of pure blue meth (Blue Sky) and capitalize on the show’s popularity.

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How Amphetamines and Meth are Abused

Amphetamines and powdered meth are usually injected or taken orally. Although medications such as Ritalin have demonstrated its benefits in treating ADHD, when it is abused it is taken in much larger doses than when it is prescribed. For recreational use the pills are generally crushed and subsequently snorted or injected. This form of ingestion reaches the brain much quicker than intended as a legitimate medication.

Crystal meth is a smokable form of meth and is its purest and most potent version. Finding the small glass pipe or “flute” used to smoke ice is a good clue that a loved one is abusing the drug. Once heated and converted to liquid it can also be injected.

When smoked or injected the user experiences an immediate intense rush with a subsequent high that can last for 12 hours. Being a stimulant, its effects are similar to cocaine but its high lasts considerably longer, adding greatly to its appeal. Often a person with meth addiction will descend into a “binge and crash” pattern, forgoing normal activity for days while chasing the “flash’’. This is the initial sensation and the absolute apex of euphoria brought on by meth use. It only lasts a few minutes and leaves the user desperately grasping for more.

Oral use reaches the brain on a slower trajectory, and usually produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.

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How Amphetamines and Meth Work

Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter in the brain serving as a threat responder. When brain is messaged with this chemical it raises the body’s heart rate and blood pressure, sharpens vision by dilating the pupils, and widens air passages in the lungs. Dopamine is another transmitter and is responsible for the feelings of pleasure during activities necessary for human survival, including eating, drinking, and sex.

Meth attaches to the neurons storing these chemicals and compels their release in abnormal measures. It can raise levels of dopamine by more than ten times any other pleasurable action. This sudden barrage causes unmatched alertness, energy and an intoxicating euphoria.

Since these neuron storehouses are of limited capacity, once the meth drains its contents it cannot keep up with the constant demand to replenish. After the drug leaves the body, the person is moody, irritated and craves another surge just to feel normal. To get any semblance of a rush, the dosage needs to be increased and the vicious cycle of addiction is in full swing.

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Symptoms and Physical Consequences of Amphetamines and Meth addiction

Amphetamines and meth abuse collect some of the most extreme physical and mental tolls found in drug use. Significant risk increases of stroke, liver damage and low immunity are all effects of prolonged use. Severe dental issues and rotting teeth and gums are associated with the drug and infamously known as “meth mouth”. Hyperthermia (dangerously increased body temperatures), convulsions, and mood swings are all consequences of meth addiction.

Meth increases libido. Combined with lowered inhibitions and impaired decision-making effects, it often leads to reckless sexual behavior and can bring STDs. The injection user also carries an increased risk of contracting HIV through contaminated needles.

Prolonged insomnia is common with meth abuse and referred to as “tweaking”. During tweaking episodes users may exhibit paranoia, and confusion. There also can be unfocused and rapid eye movement and jumbled jerky talking and walking. Tweaking sometimes lasts as long as 15 days.

Chronic abuse of meth often brings psychosis, delusions, and auditory hallucinations. A sensation of insects crawling under the skin and incessant scratching to ward them off are commonly reported in people addicted to methamphetamines. Psychotic symptoms can persist for months or even years after someone has stopped using the drug.

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Abuse, Overdose, and Fatality Statistics

In 2017 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported over one and a half million meth users in the United States. Prescription stimulants which include Ritalin and Adderall, were reported to have been misused by over five and a half million Americans in 2016, per the CDC. Perhaps more than most drugs, meth has a large regional variable. NIDA reports that east of the Mississippi River treatment admissions of clients citing methamphetamines as their primary substance of abuse is at less than one percent. Conversely, from the river westward the numbers jump from anywhere between 12 And 29%.

Nationally, overdose rates related to amphetamines, meth, or other psychostimulants (aside from cocaine) have risen over seven percentage points in the last decade. It claimed over 10,000 lives in 2017, roughly an increase of a third from the previous year and triple the number from 2012.

Succinctly put, amphetamines and meth abuse remain a very large problem in this country.

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Responding to Overdose of Amphetamines and Meth

Signs of an overdose may include extreme agitation, profuse sweating and loss of consciousness. 911 should be called immediately. Further guidance can be requested from poison control centers.
Once the emergency has been stabilized, entrance to a detox facility is crucial. Withdrawal can bring medical and psychological issues and should be done under the supervision of professionals.
Once detox has been completed, the user should be urged to enter a treatment facility, where he can use tools to help overcome addiction and return to a productive and meaningful lifestyle. Great care should be taken when choosing a treatment provider as the industry is rife with corruption. Make sure the provider has the patient’s well-being foremost in their mind. The meth user’s life is at stake.

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Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach