Methamphetamine is a drug that strongly activates certain systems in the brain. Methamphetamine is closely related chemically to amphetamine, but the central nervous system effects of methamphetamine are greater. Both drugs have some medical uses, primarily in the treatment of obesity, but their therapeutic use is limited.
Methamphetamine is made in illegal laboratories and has a high potential for abuse and dependence. Street methamphetamine is referred to by many names, such as "speed," "meth," and "chalk." Methamphetamine hydrochloride, clear chunky crystals resembling ice, which can be inhaled by smoking, is referred to as "ice," "crystal," and "glass."
Extent of Abuse
The Monitoring the Future Study assesses the extent of drug use among adolescents (8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders) and young adults across the country. Recent data from the survey:
Methods of Abuse
Methamphetamine is taken orally or intranasally (snorting the powder), by intravenous injection, and by smoking. Immediately after inhalation or intravenous injection, the methamphetamine user experiences an intense sensation, called a "rush" or "flash," that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Oral or intranasal use produces euphoria - a high, but not a rush. Because methamphetamine elevates mood, people who experiment with it tend to use it with increasing frequency and in increasing doses, although this was not their original intent.
Health Effects and Hazards
The central nervous system (CNS) actions that result from taking even small amounts of methamphetamine include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hyperthermia, and euphoria. Other CNS effects include irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia, and aggressiveness. Hyperthermia and convulsions can result in death. Cardiovascular side effects, which include chest pain and hypertension, also can result in cardiovascular collapse and death. In addition, methamphetamine causes increased heart rate and blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes. Other effects of methamphetamine include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, and extreme anorexia.
Methamphetamine is a Schedule II drug under Federal regulations, meaning it has a high potential for abuse with severe liability to cause dependence. During World War II, methamphetamine was used by soldiers as an aid to fight fatigue and enhance performance. 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 methamphetamine were nonmedically by college students, truck drivers, and athletes, who usually did not become severely addicted. This pattern changed drastically in the 1960s with the increased availability of injectable methamphetamine. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act severely restricted the legal production of injectable methamphetamine, causing its use to decrease greatly.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine has been the most prevalent clandestinely-produced controlled substance in the United States since 1979. The clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine was based primarily in the West and Southwest. Since the 1980s, ice has been smuggled from Taiwan and South Korea into Hawaii. However, it was not until the summer of 1988 that its use became relatively widespread in that State. By 1990, distribution of ice had spread to the U.S. mainland, although distribution remained limited.
Information provided by the NIH & NIDA
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