What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Also known as meth, chalk, ice, and crystal, among many other terms, it takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.
Methamphetamine was developed early in the 20th century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of well-being or euphoria. However, methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that, at comparable doses, much greater amounts of the drug get into the brain, making it a more potent stimulant. It also has longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system. These characteristics make it a drug with high potential for widespread abuse.
How is Meth abused?
Methamphetamine comes in several forms and can be smoked, inhaled (snorted), injected, or orally ingested. The preferred method of abusing the drug varies by geographical region and has changed over time. Smoking methamphetamine is currently the most common way of ingesting it, according to CEWG data.
Smoking or injecting methamphetamine puts the drug very quickly into the bloodstream and brain, causing an immediate, intense “rush” and amplifying the drug’s addiction potential and adverse health consequences. The rush, or “flash,” lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria—a high, but not an intense rush. Snorting produces effects within 3 to 5 minutes, and oral ingestion produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.
As with many stimulants, methamphetamine is most often abused in a “binge and crash” pattern. Because the pleasurable effects of methamphetamine disappear even before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly, users try to maintain the high by taking more of the drug. In some cases, abusers indulge in a form of binging known as a “run,” foregoing food and sleep while continuing to take the drug for up to several days.
How is Meth manufactured?
Most of the methamphetamine abused in this country is manufactured in “superlabs” here or, usually, in Mexico. But the drug is also easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications. To curb production of methamphetamine, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, which requires that pharmacies and other retail stores keep logs of purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine and limits the amount of those products an individual can purchase per day. A few States have even made pseudoephedrine available only with a prescription. Mexico has also tightened its restrictions on this and other methamphetamine precursor chemicals. But manufacturers adapt to these restrictions via small- or large-scale “smurfing” operations: obtaining pseudoephedrine from multiple sources, below the legal thresholds, using multiple false identifications. Manufacturers in Mexico are also increasingly using a different production process (called P2P, from the precursor chemical phenyl-2-propanone) that does not require pseudoephedrine.
Methamphetamine production also involves a number of other easily obtained chemicals that are hazardous, such as acetone, anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer), ether, red phosphorus, and lithium. Toxicity from these chemicals can remain in the environment around a methamphetamine production lab long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of damaging effects to health. Because of these dangers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided guidance on cleanup and remediation of methamphetamine labs.