|World's Most Dangerous Drug
Methamphetamine: High Potential for Abuse and Addiction
Methamphetamine is one of the hardest drugs to quit. Its abuse is ravaging rural communities and cities alike.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant commonly referred to as uppers and speed. It is found in
powder, pill, and capsule forms and can be inhaled, swallowed and
The effects are alertness, euphoria, loss of appetite, dilated
pupils, elevated heart rate, increased breathing and elevated body
NGC correspondent Lisa Ling goes inside this global epidemic to find out what makes meth so addictive and destructive.
Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs. When used illicitly, it is commonly referred to as "crystal meth", "meth" or "ice".
Methamphetamine increases alertness, concentration, energy, and in high doses, can induce euphoria, enhance self-esteem, and increase libido.
Methamphetamine has high potential for abuse and addiction by activating the psychological reward system via triggering a cascading release of dopamine in the brain.
In the United States, methamphetamine is FDA approved for the treatment of ADHD and exogenous obesity, dispensed in the USA under the trademark name Desoxyn.
As a result of methamphetamine-induced neurotoxicity to dopaminergic neurons, chronic abuse may also lead to symptoms which persist beyond the withdrawal period for months, and even up to a year.
Research has found that 20% of methamphetamine addicts experience a psychosis resembling schizophrenia which persists for longer than six months post-methamphetamine use; this amphetamine psychosis can be resistant to traditional treatment.
In addition to psychological harm, physical harm, primarily consisting of cardiovascular damage, may occur with chronic misuse or acute overdose.
Until the early 1990s, methamphetamine for the U.S. market was made mostly in labs run by drug traffickers in Mexico and California. Indiana state police found 1,260 labs in 2003, compared to just 6 in 1995, although this may be partly a result of increased police activity.
As of 2007, drug and lab seizure data suggests that approximately 80 percent of the methamphetamine used in the United States originates from larger laboratories operated by Mexican-based syndicates on both sides of the border and that approximately 20 percent comes from small toxic labs (STLs) in the United States.
Mobile and motel-based methamphetamine labs have caught the attention of both the U.S. news media and the police.
Such labs can cause explosions and fires and expose the public to hazardous chemicals. Those who manufacture methamphetamine are often harmed by toxic gases.
Many police departments have specialized task forces with training to respond to cases of methamphetamine production.
The National Drug Threat Assessment 2006, produced by the Department of Justice, found "decreased domestic methamphetamine production in both small and large-scale laboratories", but also that "decreases in domestic methamphetamine production have been offset by increased production in Mexico."
Methamphetamine is highly addictive. While the withdrawal itself may not be dangerous, withdrawal symptoms are common with heavy use and relapse is common.
The report concluded that "methamphetamine availability is not likely to decline in the near term."
In July 2007, Mexican officials at the port of Lázaro Cárdenas seized a ship carrying 19 tons of pseudoephedrine, a raw material needed for methamphetamine. The shipment originated in Hong Kong and passed through the United States at the port of Long Beach prior to its arrival in Mexico.
In the United States, illicit methamphetamine comes in a variety of forms with prices varying widely over time. Most commonly, it is found as a colorless crystalline solid. Impurities may result in a brownish or tan color. Colorful flavored pills containing methamphetamine and caffeine are known as yaa baa (Thai for "crazy medicine").
An impure form of methamphetamine is sold as a crumbly brown or off-white rock, commonly referred to as "peanut butter crank". It may be diluted or cut with non-psychoactive substances like inositol, isopropylbenzylamine or dimethylsulfone.
Another popular method is to combine methamphetamine with other stimulant substances, such as caffeine or cathine, into a pill known as a "Kamikaze", which can be particularly dangerous due to the synergistic effects of multiple stimulants. It may also be flavored with high-sugar candies, drinks, or drink mixes to mask the bitter taste of the drug. Coloring may be added to the meth, as is the case with "Strawberry Quick".
The Meth Epidemic
Following oral administration, methamphetamine is readily absorbed into the bloodstream, with peak plasma concentrations achieved in approximately 3.13 to 6.3 hours post ingestion.
The amphetamine metabolite peaks at 10 to 24 hours.
Methamphetamine is also well absorbed following inhalation and following intranasal administration. It is distributed to most parts of the body.
Methamphetamine is known to produce central effects similar to the other stimulants, but at smaller doses, with fewer peripheral effects.
Methamphetamine's high lipophilicity also allows it to cross the blood brain barrier faster than other stimulants, where it is more stable against degradation by monoamine oxidase (MAO). Methamphetamine is metabolized in the liver with the main metabolites being amphetamine (active) and 4-hydroxymethamphetamine.
Short-term exposure to high concentrations of chemical vapors that may exist in methamphetamine laboratories can cause severe health problems or even result in death. Exposure to these substances can occur from volatile air emissions, spills, fires, and explosions.
Methamphetamine labs are often discovered when fire fighters respond to a blaze. Methamphetamine cooks, their families, and first responders are at highest risk of acute health effects from chemical exposure, including lung damage and chemical burns to the body.
Following a seizure of a methamphetamine lab, there is often a low exposure risk to chemical residues, however this contamination should be sanitized. Chemical residues and lab wastes that are left behind at a former methamphetamine lab can result in severe health problems for people who use the property, therefore local health departments should thoroughly assess the property for hazards prior to allowing it to be reinhabited, especially by children.
Those seeking home ownership in heavy meth use areas should be especially careful while house hunting and be sure to have properties inspected before purchasing.