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Methamphetamine (meth, ice, crystal, stove-top), is a synthetic analogue of adrenaline.
Adrenalin is a naturally produced hormone the body produces in small amounts when reacting to an immediate stress. The hormone and the drug that mimics it increases energy and alertness when we need a short burst to escape immediate danger. The difference between the two is that the naturally secreted adrenalin quickly clears our systems and we recover. Meth can last 6 to 8 hours or longer.
It may be surprising to some that methamphetamine was once a legitimate drug. In fact, it is still prescribed and sold in the U.S. (under the trade name Desoxyn) for weight loss and attention deficit disorder. This is an oral form of the drug. The injectable or smoked form is much more powerful and is illegal. Inhaling or injecting meth gives the addict an almost instant high. The drug speeds quickly into the bloodstream and the brain. While methamphetamine is addictive in any form, it is the immediate rush and sustained high of the inhaled drug that makes it so addictive.
History of Meth Addiction
Although first synthesized in Japan in 1893 in Japan, it was first introduced for sale in the US in 1944. The drug found use in situations where people needed to stay awake for extended periods and became popular with truck drivers and shift workers. It also found use as an anorexic and used to aid weight loss.
Soon however, the addictive properties and the ‘crash’ associated with meth use led to its being banned. Now, the only source is illegal manufacture, usually in home or makeshift laboratories. In 2005, as part of the Patriot Act, some of the chemicals used to make meth have been restricted in an attempt to lessen illegal production.
Methamphetamine comes in two forms, a left and a right handed type. Only the right handed form (dextro) has the powerful addictive properties. In fact, the left handed form (levo) is still sold in over the counter inhaler products to stop runny nose. The "left" and "right" monikers refer to the molecular structure of the chemical.
Methamphetamine, when inhaled, gives the user an extreme, overwhelming sense of euphoria, power, and seemingly boundless energy. Ideas come in a flash, conversation quickens, and sexual arousal is heightened; lights and colors seem brighter, the heart beat speeds up and the person becomes restless with nervous intensity. It is sometimes used to instill confidence in social situations and an oral tablet, Yaba (a mix of caffeine and meth) has become popular at clubs and raves.
This wonderful feeling quickly fades and the user crashes. The crash comes from the user’s body paying the price for the super-charged meth state. Fatigue and depression are the common elements. Users may sleep for extended periods unless they have become dependent on the drug, in which case they will awaken and begin a cycle of craving and drug seeking behavior.
Extended periods of use, called ‘tweaking’, will force an addict to keep using more and more of the drug. They will stay awake and tweaked for days or even a week at a time. An episode may only end when they are arrested or hospitalized for psychotic, violent behavior or when their body simply cannot function any longer.
Meth Addiction Effects
Beyond the social damage meth addiction causes, there are well known physiological effects that may take a year or more to heal. This includes changes in the dopamine pathways in the brain that alter how an addict is able to feel pleasure. Without the drug to stimulate these damaged areas of the brain, addicts will be unable to feel normal pleasures and subsequently fall into depression.
Death from methamphetamine abuse can come in a variety of forms – severe anorexia, hyperthermia, convulsions, or cardiac collapse. Unfortunately, it is the loved ones of the addict who usually suffer first. Meth addiction is a noted cause of family violence because the aggression and irritability felt by addicts is usually directed at a spouse or children.
Meth mouth – an accelerated tooth decay and tooth loss is associated with chronic meth use. The drug itself doesn’t directly cause the problem, rather, the dry mouth and teeth grinding from meth use, along with poor oral hygiene, lead to the condition.
Meth babies – Because methamphetamine is passed to unborn children through the placenta, some babies are born already exposed to the drug and have to undergo withdrawal. Meth is also excreted in breast milk.
Intravenous use is associated with all the risks that come from IV drug abuse. Risks for HIV, Hepatitis and infections are elevated, especially because, when tweaking, an injectable user doesn’t care about sanitary practices. Because meth is used to enhance sex with the same lack of care or concern, there is increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases in addict populations. Some addicts will even use sex as a way to finance their addiction.
photo by Rotorhead