Methamphetamine is the current drug bugaboo. It used to be crack cocaine which provided the excuse for stepping up the drug war, these days it’s meth.
Tellingly, much of the anti-methamphetamine propaganda sounds just like anti-pot propaganda. Meth opponents explain how meth-making is so easy anyone can do it in their own home, that meth is much more potent than it used to be, and that meth-making operations can be dangerous and flammable. We know the pot-propaganda is mostly lies and exagerration, so what about meth?
In the classic and informative 1972 book Licit and Illicit Drugs by Consumer Reports, the editors describe the history and development of amphetamines.
The editors explain how amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887, and that by 1927 its effects in opening the nasal and bronchial passages, stimulating the central nervous system and raising blood pressure had been discovered. The drug was first marketed in 1932, under the trade name Benzedrine.
During World War II, US, British, German, and Japanese soldiers were issued amphetamines to counteract fatigue, elevate mood, and heighten endurance. Amphetamines were considered a superior stimulant than cocaine, which had been used previously, as amphetamines could be taken orally and had a longer duration of effect.
After World War II, an underground trade in amphetamines developed along with the expanding legal market. Truck stops dispensed amphetamines as well as coffee and caffeine tablets. Students, who had long used caffeine tablets, now turned to the new amphetamine “pep pills” when cramming for exams. Athletes and businessmen were taking amphetamines by 1940. By 1942, variations of amphetamine had hit the market, including dextro-amphetamine and methamphetamine. (Methamphetamine is an amphetamine to which a methyl group molecule has been added.)
Typically, police action to stop black-market amphetamines only served to advertise and promote their use, as well as driving up the price and attracting more entrepreneurs.
Consumers Reports’ editors write that “enormous quantities of oral amphetamines were consumed in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s with apparently little misuse. As late as 1963, indeed, the American Medical Association’s Council on Drugs, while recognizing the possibility of misuse, reported that ‘at this time compulsive abuse of the amphetamines constitutes ? a small problem [in the United States].’ Much the same finding was reported from Sweden.”
Yet when it comes to injecting amphetamines, the editors take a different perspective, writing that “intravenous injection of large doses of amphetamines is among the most disastrous forms of drug use yet devised.” Yet the prohibition of oral amphetamines only spurred on the use of injectable forms of the drug.
The earliest intravenous use of amphetamines was among American servicemen stationed in Korea and Japan during the early 1950s, who mixed amphetamines with heroin. “This was, in effect, the traditional ‘speedball,’ with amphetamine substituted for cocaine. Servicemen brought the custom home with them after the Korean War.”
In the early 1960s, meth came to be known as “speed” ? perhaps an allusion to its use in the “speedball.” (“Speed” now usually refers to any amphetamine.)
In 1962, there was a general crackdown against doctors and pharmacists who were selling prescriptions for injectable amphetamine, with an associated media campaign extolling the dangers of amphetamine injecting. Consumer Reports’ editors explain how this publicity campaign backfired, and “the delights of amphetamine mainlining, previously known primarily to heroin addicts, became a matter of common knowledge and general interest.”
Over the next year, injectable amphetamine ampoules were withdrawn from the market by most major pharmaceutical manufacturers. Consumer Reports explains how “the 1962 crackdown on legal sources of amphetamines triggered the emergence of illicit factories? where speed was manufactured. By 1963 several labs were in operation in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because of the shortage caused by the crackdown and withdrawal of ampules, the manufacture and distribution of amphetamine became an extremely profitable enterprise.”
Thus began the current era of amphetamines being produced in private homes, much as marijuana cultivation moved indoors when smuggling became more difficult.
The Consumer Reports’ methamphetamine history ends in 1972 when the book was published. Accurate cultural information on methamphetamine is hard to come by, but the 1997 book Crystal Children continues the speed saga ? it’s a self-described collection of tales about “the intersection of electronic music and dance culture with drugs, especially crystal methamphetamine.”
Greg writes that “the term ‘crystal’ has been used to describe illicit, powdered methamphetamine since the early 1960’s, when Desoxyn (pharmaceutical, legal methamphetamine, usually available in a liquid) was refined by underground chemists to a more concentrated crystalline or glassy compound.”
Greg also also explains that “smokeable speed appeared about ten years after the early 70’s, when a “new” drug called Ice hit the streets? Strictly speaking, Ice refers to a highly purified form of crystal meth that appears in a ‘rock’ form?” Ice cannot be injected, and is consumed through smoking.
Greg theorizes that many methamphetamine users are actually suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). He explains how amphetamines “were first used to treat narcolepsy, bronchial problems, obesity, depression, and Minimal Brain Dysfunction (now known as Attention Deficit Disorder).” Greg claims that those who “responsibly” limit their use to weekend binges are actually using it improperly. He argues that many meth users would be better off using smaller quantities of amphetamines on a more regular basis, thereby deriving the medicinal benefits with far less negative effects.
Greg was also my roommate for a few months while he lived his book, and so I can attest to his claim that “coming down off crystal meth has all the ‘roid rage’ of body building, without the steroids, or the muscles.”
It’s also true that heavy use of methamphetamine leads to long periods without sleep, and the effects of sleep deprivation become confused with the direct effects of the drug. Contrary to a popular belief, however, speed – even in enormous doses – very rarely kills.
From E to speed
An article by Mireille Silcott in the June 3 issue of Saturday Night magazine discussed the modern transition in rave-drug of choice ? from ecstasy to amphetamine. Aside from amphetamines being easier to make, cheaper, and more habit-forming, the article explains that “new substances come into vogue? because the substance fills some sort of social niche or addresses some particular want.
“Ecstasy ? and the rave scene the drug helped create ? first became popular on a grand scale in Britain in 1988. After ten years of steely Tory rule, Britain’s working-class youth felt trapped, spiritually exhausted, and impotent. Ecstasy? induced feelings of warmth, empathy, and love, love, love, making the future seem bright again?” By comparison, today’s ravers “don’t need that kind of escape? their teenagehood is happening in double-wow propserous times.” Silcott claims that they want “a pressure valve? a drug that can keep you dancing all night, wihout any of that wishy-washy, love-thy-neighbour utopian baloney?”
Does this change in drug use signal bad things for the rave scene? Perhaps. Silcott writes how some consider that amphetamine use within the late 60’s Haight-Ashbury community “effectively killed the hippies’ extended Summer of Love.”
End the war
The conclusion? Prohibition of amphetamines has made the use of more potent amphetamines more popular, and also more dangerous.
Like most of the other “killer drugs” the dangers of methamphetamine are inacurrately represented and typically exagerrated by prohibitionist governments and the mainstream media.The prohibitionist policy of censoring accurate information on drugs results only in misinformed and dangerous forms of use.
People use drugs because they satisfy a need, medical, social, spiritual, or otherwise. Amphetamines have a long history of safe popular use. A reasonable policy towards methamphetamine, ecstasy and other stimulant drugs would be to market safe, reliable forms of these substances for social and other use.
Amphetamine vs caffeine
A key question in the safety of any substance is the amount and concentration of the dose taken, and the form of use. Amphetamines taken in moderate doses are a safe a reliable stimulant. It is only when large doses are repeatedly smoked or injected that health and psychological problems may occur.
In his massive, scholarly work Pharmacotheon, respected entheogenic researcher Jonathon Ott discusses the research comparing amphetamine to caffeine.
“Quite a bit of research has been conducted comparing caffeine with amphetamines,” explains Ott, “and almost invariably, amphetamines turn out to be superior.” He continues to explain that amphetamines improve reaction time and increase the steadiness of the hands, while caffeine does not improve reaction time, and actually impairs steadiness. He also quotes a summary of the caffeine/amphetamine comparison studies, which says that “at dose levels that clearly enhance performance, the amphetamines seem not only more effective than caffeine, but less costly in terms of side effects.”
“I’d feel much safer if my pilot on an all-night flight had taken 10mg of methamphetamine before departing… instead of chain-smoking Marlboros and gulping execrable airline coffee all the way,” conludes Ott, adding that “NASA, which has conducted research on optimizing performance of austronauts, settled on a NASA-developed ‘prescription’ containing amphetamines for the pilots of the space shuttle…”
Ott concludes that “the US Federal Aviation Administration is guilty of defaulting on its obligations to protect the safety of air travelers, by allowing the use by pilots of inferior stimulants which impair the steadiness of pilots’ hands and degrade their night vision.”
Amphetamine and methamphetamine are stimulants. They are part of a molecule group called phenethylamines, along with hallucinogens such as mescaline, 2CB and DOM, and “entactogens” such as Ecstacsy, MDE, MDA and MBDB. Ecstacy is a methamphetamine derivative. The chemical name for Ecstasy is methylenedioxymethamphetamine, abbreviated as MDMA ? the “MA” part is for methamphetamine.
Despite their chemical similarity, MDMA and methamphetamine have different interactions in the brain. Ecstasy primarily affects serotonin, which mediates emotional systems. Methamphetamine has a greater effect on dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward.
Methamphetamine can be made in a number of ways, but the method most commonly used by home-cookers is ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine reduction. In his classic book Secrets of Methamphetaine Manufacture (search down for Fester), Uncle Fester details the chemical processes that can produce methamphetamine from over-the-counter pills, common industrial chemicals, and even cinnamon oil. Fester even explains how to brew ephedrine using yeast and brewer’s equipment.
Although the chemistry is not complex, expertise is required to understand and complete the processes.
? For archives on amphetamine: leda.lycaeum.org/?ID=364
? Excerpts on amphetamine research: leda.lycaeum.org/?ID=8743
? Amphetamine FAQ: leda.lycaeum.org/?ID=16700
? Dance Safe on Amphetamines: dancesafe.org/documents/druginfo/speed.php
? For drug legislation and freedom issues: Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics: www.cognitiveliberty.org
? US National Institute on Drug Abuse ‘facts’ about methamphetamine addiction: www.nida.nih.gov/ResearchReports/Methamph/Methamph.html
? Koch Crime Institute’s Methamphetamine Links (Anti-drug site): www.kci.org/meth_info/links.htm