The methamphetamine history begins with a type of plant known as ephedra. Although it is found around the world, ephedra has been used in Asia and the Americas for centuries to treat asthma. By 1887, the chemical ephedrine was isolated from the plant. It only took six years for the drug, methamphetamine, to be developed after ephedrine was created. In 1919, scientists created crystallized methamphetamine from ephedrine, iodine, and red phosphorous. Originally, these drugs were used as stimulants and treated a range of illnesses. They became popular as antidepressants, diet aids, and stimulants. By World War II, methamphetamine began to be used by soldiers.
World War II and the Rise of Meth
During the Second World War, the Nazis created and distributed millions of methamphetamine pills. Sold under the name Pervitin, the drug was used by the military as a stimulant. It was used by the military to create super-soldiers. In 1940, the military used 25 million tablets of speed in just four months. Since it was also sold over-the-counter, soldiers that ran low would write to their family to get more pills. Toward the end of the war, the German military wanted a pill that would enhance the strength of the military and increase morale. As a result, a pill was made that consisted of painkillers, cocaine, and Pervitin. Known as D-IX, the drug did not finish clinical trials before the war ended.
American, British, and Japanese soldiers also consumed amphetamines. The Americans and British used a drug known as Dexedrine. In Japan, a special military-grade drug was created. When the war ended, the remainder of the drugs flooded the general marketplace in Japan.
Once World War II ended, amphetamine continued to be produced and sold. In the 1950s and 1960s, doctors prescribed it to patients. As amphetamine grew in usage, doctors began to realize the harmful effects of the drug. The medical community saw a rise in the number of patients who suffered from addiction and temporary insanity. Individuals who wanted access to more amphetamine could break open Benzedrine inhalers and swallow the medicine. The resulting abuse of the drug led the United States government to place new controls on amphetamines. With more restrictions, addicts turned to producing amphetamine at home.
The Inner Workings of Crystal Meth
The majority of individuals snort crystal methamphetamine, but it can also be consumed orally or through an injection. This white substance affects the central nervous system and is extremely addictive. Once someone consumes it, it causes massive amounts of dopamine to be produced in the brain. This rush creates a sense of elation or a high that cannot be naturally synthesized. To get the same high, the meth user must consume more meth. As their tolerance level increases, the user has to intake more and more meth.
Over time, meth will decrease the ability of the mind to create or process dopamine correctly. Scientists now know that meth addicts have fewer dopamine receptors in their brain. This deficiency makes it difficult for addicts to quit because they cannot feel the same level of happiness. Quitting often produces depression or hopelessness in former addicts. If the former drug user can stop using meth, their mind will return to normal after a period of time.
From the moment meth is used, the individual will feel more alert. Their heart rate will increase and their sweat glands will produce more sweat. Many individuals feel more talkative or report feelings of being superhuman. Scientists have also noted that meth users exhibit an increased interest in mundane activities. This makes it easier for them to perform repetitive work for extended periods of time. The user will have a decreased appetite. If meth is used for an extended period of time, it will cause tooth decay and skin lesions.
Modern Meth Production
By the 1970s, amphetamines were increasingly being used by hippies. The counterculture in America began to shoot up speed and take uppers. Certain motorcycle gangs were notorious for creating amphetamine out of swimming pool chemicals. This new ingredient for amphetamine was known as phenyl-2-propanone (P2P). Before long, the American government saw the misuse of P2P and placed it under federal control. Government officials assumed if they stopped the supply of amphetamine’s ingredients, the creation of crank would halt. Unfortunately, creative criminals developed new ways to make drugs.
Crooks discovered that they could make drugs using ephedrine. Instead of being an amphetamine, the new drug was called methamphetamine. Compared to the P2P-produced drug, the new speed was twice as potent.
One notable group of meth producers was led by two brothers, Jesus and Luis Amezcua. After spending a few years as cocaine dealers in the 1980s, they switched to importing ephedrine. Rather than buy it domestically, they purchased from laboratories located overseas. By hiding their purchases in the open, they managed to be overlooked by law enforcement. By the middle of the 1990s, Jesus and Luis Amezcua were importing 80 percent of methamphetamine in the United States. The increased consumption of meth led to a rise in crime, child abuse, drug rehabilitation, and emergency room trips.
To hide their shipments, the Amezcua brothers had all of their ephedrine shipped from the laboratories into Mexico. Once it arrived in Mexico, they shipped it in small amounts to the United States. One shipment of 3.4 metric tons of ephedrine was caught by customs agents. After the shipment was caught, they pushed for laboratories around the world to adopt tighter standards. Although this worked for a while, criminals still managed to work around the rules. They switched to use pseudoephedrine pills instead of the tightly regulated ephedrine.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has tried to stymy the flow of meth into the United States since the 1980s. They adopted a program that required sellers of pseudoephedrine to be tightly regulated. Since so many companies applied for licenses to sell, the DEA ended up granting temporary licenses to everyone who applied. This effectively created a legal avenue for creators of meth to purchase pseudoephedrine pills.
Once the new regulations were enacted, the pharmaceutical lobby fought back. The lobbyists wanted packages of pseudoephedrine to be sold over-the-counter in order to increase their revenue. These packages were purchased by meth cooks and opened. Large scale operations even created machines that opened the individual packets mechanically to save time. Despite the effort by lobbyists, law enforcement agencies ultimately made it so pseudoephedrine could only be sold behind the counter.
After all of the new regulations, crystal methamphetamine is still used in the United States. In 2004, 1.4 million individuals in the United States used meth. By 2006, the number from these meth statistics had risen to 1.9 million.