The History of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine (Meth) is a synthetic stimulant, derived from ephedrine, which affects the central nervous system. Its parent drug is amphetamine. Originally, meth was frequently used to treat obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It was commonly known and sold under the name Methedrine. In World War II, both the Allies and Axis powers used it to keep soldiers awake. It was outlawed in the United States in 1970, but by then use dramatically increased. Furthermore, it can be made from household ingredients and ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are commonly found in over-the-counter cold medications. According to PBS, home meth labs began spreading in the 1980s and it was not until the mid-1980s that the DEA moved to require companies to track sales and import records.
As meth is highly addictive, it is now rarely prescribed in legal forms in the United States. Many countries have banned its use completely, which means medical use is not allowed under any circumstances. In the United States, it is illegal unless prescribed at the federal level, while medicinal enforcement varies by jurisdiction. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), meth is significantly more toxic than amphetamine. Furthermore, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “…much greater amounts of the drug get into the brain” and “It also had longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system.” From a 2017 government study, 964,000 people had a meth use disorder which was up from 684,000 in 2016. Unfortunately, meth use is having a resurgence in the United States.
Meth carries a high risk of addiction even when used legally. Unfortunately, it is most frequently now used illegally. There is a stigma around most drug use, and even greater for drugs like meth. This makes it difficult to find information or medical resources, as well as seeking treatment. It’s important for drug rehab centers to help clients and their loved ones to know there is no shame in seeking treatment.
What Does Meth Look Like?
Meth comes in different forms. Smoking, injecting, swallowing, and snorting meth are all common methods. According to NIDA, meth is often a white, bitter-tasting powder or pill. Crystal methamphetamine (or crystal meth) looks like a glass fragment or a shiny, bluish-white rock. It is possible, and often likely, that meth used illegally will be cut with other substances. This may frequently be dangerous opioids, including fentanyl. While meth on its own is dangerous, this significantly increases the danger and it won’t be clear it’s cut with something else.
Liquid meth is becoming increasingly common, particularly as it is easier to hide and transport. According to the DEA, it is the number one drug now smuggled across the border. Once it has been transported, liquid meth is typically then converted into crystals. In any form found on the street, meth is incredibly toxic. Liquid meth is particularly dangerous to consume, with most drug dealers intending to convert it once it has reached its destination.
Meth Symptoms and Side Effects
The symptoms and side effects of meth use may vary widely. Further, severity will of course by affected by dosage and length of use. According to NIDA, taking even small amounts of meth can result in similar health effects from other stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines. Signs of meth use can include:
- Increased wakefulness and physical activity
- Loss of appetite
- Increased blood pressure
Long-term meth use has a number of serious health risks. This includes:
- Extreme weight loss
- Serious dental issues (what is commonly known as "meth mouth"
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Extreme paranoia
From initial use, meth has significant impact on one’s physical health, which can increase dramatically over a short period of time. There is a high risk for addiction. Meth quickly begins to affect one’s mental health, with meth induced psychosis a strong possibility after significant use.
Legal Use of Meth
The only legal use of meth in the United States is when prescribed at the federal level, which is closely monitored. Resources on the use of meth for medical needs caution that the strong risk for addiction must be considered when contemplating its use. A common medication made from methamphetamine is Desoxyn. Desoxyn is primarily used to treat ADHD, doing so by increasing alertness, wakefulness, and improving focus and concentration. It is also sometimes used in the short-term treatment of obesity. A similar brand name drug that people might be familiar with is Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, which is used to treat the same issues as Desoxyn.
Withdrawal is one of the more difficult parts of recovery. It varies widely by substance but, whatever the case, is part of what makes relapse so common. According to a study done by researchers at UCLA, one of the primary symptoms of meth withdrawal is dysphoric mood. This is when someone experiences extreme mood swings, sadness, depression, and indifference among other symptoms. Other withdrawal symptoms might include “…fatigue, insomnia, hypersomnia, increased appetite, psychomotor agitation or retardation, or vivid, unpleasant dreams.” It is possible for someone to deal with severe meth induced psychosis depending on length of use. The study found that depressive and psychotic symptoms will typically resolve within a week, whereas cravings will last at least five weeks. This will, of course, vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors.
According to NIDA, it is absolutely possible for a meth overdose to happen. With legal meth use, like Desoxyn or Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, it is possible of course to take more doses than necessary on accident or on purpose. If anyone is taking it legally, they should absolutely discuss with their doctor how it will interact with all substances, including coffee and alcohol, to be sure they are using at safely as possible. The majority of meth use is illegal, which means most people are using incredibly toxic meth. NIDA points out, “In 2017, about 15 percent of all drug overdose deaths involved the methamphetamine category, and 50 percent of those deaths also involved an opioid, with half of those cases related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.”
Meth overdose frequently results in stroke, heart attacks, or organ problems. NIDA states that first responders and emergency room workers will attempt to treat these conditions in treating the overdose. There have been various stories in the news of people dying from overdoses with liquid meth, though these have mostly been either accidental or forced. While no illegal meth use is desirable, it’s important for anyone to understand that consumption of liquid meth is likely to result in death or significant and permanent impairment if survival is possible.
Factors Behind Addiction
As with most substances, nobody sets out to gain an addiction. Even for people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, there is often a stigma around meth use. So how do people get there? There are of course countless possibilities. Many possible factors include social, economic, and familial background. Is it something widely available where someone who is addicted lives? It’s also quite possible that a person is dealing with addiction to other substances, and stimulants in particular. Someone taking amphetamines or methamphetamines for medication could find themselves dealing with substance abuse and addiction, despite using under medical supervision.
They may reach a point where meth is the cheapest and most easily available substance. Many people may simply be around others using meth, decide to try it and believe they won’t become addicted to meth. Unfortunately meth is highly addictive and it will not take much for someone to be dealing with addiction.
Treatment for Meth Addiction
Currently, there are no federally approved medical treatments for methamphetamine addiction. This is not to say no medicine is effective, simply there is likely not enough research and proven effectiveness for anything yet. Unfortunately, it is possible that the lack of knowledge is somewhat based in the deep stigma around meth addiction. A side effect of meth use, worse with significant use, is deep paranoia and mistrust. This likely adds to the reluctance of someone seeking treatment in the first place. Families and friends of those suffering from meth addiction may want to get help, but often face difficulty in convincing their loved one to seek treatment. Further, they possibly feel shame and guilt themselves around the issue.
Some good news is that behavioral therapy and motivational incentive has proven effective in treatment. This includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of talk therapy/psychotherapy. Through CBT, patients learn to identify and address negative thoughts and responses, and then learn more constructive behaviors instead. The goal is to help patients be able to deal with stressful situations by thinking clearly and responding in an effective way.
While there is not currently a government approved medicine in treating meth addiction, medicine will still be important in treatment. Meth significantly deprives the body of nutrition; it will be important for patients to work on improving their health through a combination of medicine, holistic health treatments, and nutrition through food. The reality is meth addiction is difficult to treat and overcome, but it is not impossible. The best actions drug rehab centers can take:
- Treat the patient as a whole, meaning looking at their entire history and genetic makeup
- Helping them through therapy like CBT
- Working on improving their physical health
- Provide tools to cope with cravings and work on a relapse prevention plan
- Acknowledge that relapse is possible, and often likely, but is not the end of the world