Crystal methamphetamine, also known as “meth,” “crystal,” “crank,” “glass,” “ice,” and “speed,” is a powerful stimulant that can be inhaled, injected, smoked, or taken orally. Methamphetamine is the most potent in the class of stimulant drugs called amphetamines. Chemically similar to epinephrine (adrenaline), amphetamines are synthetic drugs that produce stimulation of the central nervous system, inducing decreases in appetite, increased libido, feelings of euphoria, alertness, and physical competence, as well as anxiety and insomnia. Amphetamine was first produced in 1887; methamphetamine was first synthesized from ephedrine (the active ingredient in the herb ephedra) in 1893.
in the mid-20th century, physicians began to prescribe amphetamines for a variety of conditions, ranging from asthma and narcolepsy to attention deficit disorder and obesity. Use of amphetamines increased throughout the 1940s and 1950s; they were regularly distributed to soldiers fighting on all sides during world war ii to enhance physical endurance and overcome fatigue. In the postwar period, many women in the United States and the United Kingdom used amphetamine as a means of combating depression, losing weight, and as an aid to the monotonous daily completion of household chores, hence the label “mother’s little helper.” In Japan, epidemic abuse of methamphetamine left over from World War II eventually resulted in the passage of the Stimulants Control Law in 1951. In the United States, amphetamine and methamphetamine increased in popularity throughout the 1960s and a substantial black market emerged in California. Its growth was given an unintended boost by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which greatly constricted the legal means of obtaining amphetamines.
In the 1970s, the distribution of illegal methamphetamine in the United States was largely associated with motorcycle gangs. However, methamphetamine is no longer associated solely with gangs. Since the late 1990s, hundreds of methamphetamine labs have been raided by local and federal law enforcement in both urban and rural areas, where poverty, unemployment, and the demands of industrial and agricultural jobs contribute to a demand for stimulant drugs. Methamphetamine has also become integrated into gay culture and the “rave” scene, where it is commonly used to power all-night dancing sessions and to boost sexual performance. Because methamphetamine can be readily produced from commonly available ingredients, it does not require import networks (although such networks are frequently involved with large-scale distribution). All methods of making methamphetamine employ toxic chemical agents and some source of ephedrine, such as over-the-counter cold medicine. Methamphetamine labs vary greatly in size and efficiency, from “mom and pop” outfits that cook the drug for personal use and local sale, to large-scale factories that turn it out for mass distribution. Due to the volatile chemicals involved, all of these pose potential health hazards, not only to the individuals involved in production, but also to the surrounding community and the natural environment.
Like cocaine, amphetamines produce an initial pleasant feeling, or rush, caused by increased production of dopamine in the brain. This is followed by an elevation of mood and energy, and a subsequent steep decline. Methamphetamine use can result in drug dependence. Unlike cocaine, which tends to be very short-acting, the euphoric effects of methamphetamine may last for 6-24 hours depending on the dose. Unfortunately, the drug does not provide the energy that the user feels while under its influence; this is drawn from the limited stores of the body itself. As a result, people using the drug “come down” with their energy drained. Chronic users become accustomed to chemically elevated moods and energy levels, and cessation of use results in a severe “crash,” which may be accompanied by deep depression and intense craving for more of the drug. This, in turn, may lead to another “binge” of drug use. Methamphetamine addicts are sometimes called “tweakers” because of their compulsive and paranoid behavior.
Methamphetamine appeals to poor and working women because of its relative cheapness. The drug promises to fill the gap between the multiple expectations placed on women and the limited resources available to them, and growing numbers of women are using methamphetamine as a means of keeping up with work and household tasks, losing weight, and combating depression. However, abuse and/or dependence may result in many more problems: unhealthy weight loss, insomnia, impaired memory, cardiovascular damage, psychosis, prenatal complications, congenital deformities, and neglect or abuse of children. There are also substantial legal ramifications for the manufacture, use, and sale of the drug. The association of methamphetamine with intravenous injection and heightened sexual activity raises the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, and bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis. Since methamphetamine use can produce confusion, impair judgment, and heighten aggressiveness, it may also contribute to sexual victimization. Barring effective prevention and treatment efforts or a lessening of the societal pressures placed on women in the United States methamphetamine abuse and dependence will continue to threaten the health of the women who use it for years to come.
SEE ALSO: Club drugs, Depression, Substance use
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