Methamphetamine is a highly addictive and very potent central nervous stimulant, also known as "meth," "crystal meth," "ice," and "glass."1 A Schedule II drug, methamphetamine is an extremely powerful amphetamine. The effects are long-lasting, and users have been known to stay awake for days on end during binges; these potent stimulant effects are the reason the drug is often labeled as a "club drug." Methamphetamine is produced in illegal laboratories and in larger "superlabs" across the United States, particularly in California, Arizona, Utah, and Texas.2 However, the expansion of Mexico-based traffickers and the growth of independent U.S.-based laboratories have dramatically increased in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and some portions of the Southeast; production and availability is also beginning to spread to the Northeast.3
Methamphetamine was derived from amphetamine in Japan in 1919. Both of these chemicals were originally used in nasal decongestants and in bronchial inhalers.4 Methamphetamine has also been used in the treatment of obesity.5 It first came to the United States in the 1930's.6 Use of the drug surged in the 1950's and 1960's, when users began injecting more frequently. The drug was outlawed as a part of the U.S. Drug Abuse and Regulation Control Act of 1970. Production and trafficking soared again in the 1990's in relation to organized crime in the Southwestern United States and Mexico.7
Methamphetamine can be taken orally, by intravenous injection, by smoking, or by snorting. The drug appears in powder ("crystal") form, which can be processed into a rock ("ice") or liquid form for the purpose of injection. After taking the drug, users experience a short, but intense rush that lasts 5-30 minutes, depending on the route of administration. Afterwards, the stimulant's other effects, including increased activity, decreased appetite, and a sense of well-being, can last 6 to 12 hours. Some users will continue taking doses of methamphetamine every so often in order to sustain the high and to avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms.8
Methamphetamine is a very strong psychomotor stimulant that mimics the actions of certain neurotransmitters that affect mood and movement.9 Methamphetamine causes a release of dopamine and serotonin, producing the intense rush that users feel. Even after the initial rush subsides, the brain remains in an alert state and keeps the user's body on edge. After the effects have worn off, the brain is depleted of its dopamine, and depression is a common result. Methamphetamine easily hooks users because the highs are so intense and the lows are so awful. In addition, regular users build up a tolerance to the drug's effects, needing more of the drug to feel the original effect. Furthermore, methamphetamine can be extremely addictive. Methamphetamine appears to have neurotoxic (brain-damaging) effects, destroying brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin.10 Over time, abuse appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson's disease. 11 Methamphetamine also stimulates locomotor activity (i.e. - reflexes, basic physical movements) and produces "stereotypic behaviors" - random, repetitive, compulsive movements and actions such as twitching or picking at the skin - as a side effect.12
In addition to being physically addictive, methamphetamine can also be very psychologically addictive as well. Under the influence of methamphetamine, users experience bursts of energy, talkativeness, and excitement. Users are able to go for hours or even days without sleep or food. 13 High doses or chronic use have been associated with increased nervousness, irritability, paranoia, and occasionally violent behavior, while withdrawal from high doses generally leads to severe depression. Chronic abuse produces a psychosis similar to schizophrenia and is characterized by paranoia, picking at the skin, self-absorption, auditory and visual hallucinations, and sometimes episodes of violence.
The most dangerous stage of methamphetamine abuse occurs when an abuser has not slept in 3-15 days and is irritable and paranoid. This behavior is referred to as "tweaking," and the user is known as the "tweaker." The tweaker craves more methamphetamine, but it is difficult to achieve the original high, causing frustration and unstable behavior in the user. Because of the tweaker's unpredictability, there have been reports that they can react violently, which can lead to involvement in domestic disputes, spur-of-the-moment crimes, or motor vehicle accidents.
A tweaker can appear normal - eyes clear, speech concise, and movements brisk; however, a closer look will reveal that the person's eyes are moving ten times faster than normal, the voice has a slight quiver, and movements are quick and jerky.14 These physical signs are more difficult to identify if the tweaker has been using a depressant such as alcohol; however, if the tweaker has been using a depressant, his or her negative feelings - including paranoia and frustration - can increase substantially. A person should use extreme caution when dealing with an individual on methamphetamine.
The following effects are traits that methamphetamine users demonstrate while under the influence of the drug:
These negative effects can onset during or after methamphetamine intoxication:
There are several indicators that can help identify a person who has been abusing methamphetamine. Methamphetamine abuse can cause insomnia, anxiety, and violent or psychotic behavior. If this type of behavior is not typical for that person, he or she may have a drug problem. Chronic methamphetamine users also often display poor hygiene, a pale, unhealthy complexion, and sores on their bodies from picking at "crank bugs" - the tactile hallucination that tweakers often experience. 18 In addition, users may have cracked teeth due to extreme jaw-clenching during a methamphetamine high.
NIDA Methamphetamine Infofax. http://www.drugabuse.gov/Infofax/methamphetamine.html.
July 17, 2002.
2 ONDCP Methamphetamine Page. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/pdf/ncj175677.pdf. July 17, 2002.
3 ONDCP Methamphetamine Page.
4 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page. http://www.intheknowzone.com/meth/index.htm. July 17, 2002.
5 NIDA Methamphetamine Infofax.
6 ACDE Methamphetamine Facts. http://www.acde.org/youth/Research.htm. July 26, 2002.
7 DEA Amphetamine/Methamphetamine Page. http://www.dea.gov/concern/amphetamines.html. July 26, 2002.
8 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
9 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
10 NIDA Methamphetamine Infofax.
11 NIDA Methamphetamine Infofax.
12 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
13 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
14 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
15 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
16 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
17 InTheKnowZone Methamphetamine Page.
18 ONDCP Methamphetamine Page.
19 ONDCP Methamphetamine Street Terms. http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/streetterms/ByType.asp?intTypeID=14. July 17, 2002.