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A History of Crystal Methamphetamine

Crystal meth is simply high-purity methamphetamine in a crystalline form. Also known as methylamphetamine or desoxyephedrine, the drug resembles pieces of glass, ice cubes or chunks of crystals, from which it derives some of its street names- glass, ice, shards or meth. The drug is also referred to as speed, crank or go-fast because of its potency as a stimulant. In the US, this highly addictive drug is ranked among the most widely abused after alcohol and marijuana.

The crystal meth history dates back to the 19th century. Methamphetamine was first developed from ephedrine in 1893. A similar drug used for treating asthma, amphetamine, was then developed in 1887 in Germany. Years later, in 1919, a Japanese chemist, Akira Ogata developed the crystal form of methamphetamine by reducing ephedrine using red phosphorus and iodine. This crystal form was highly soluble in water, which made it easy to use by injections.

During the Second World War, methamphetamine was widely used to boost the troops' performance, keep them awake and to treat fatigue. The Japanese pilots were given high doses of the drug prior to their air missions. In Germany, the soldiers used the drug freely in the form of Pervitin tablets. Methamphetamine was often infused in chocolate, which was known as 'flier's' or 'tanker's chocolate' and given to the soldiers. The American and British soldiers were also using the amphetamines in the form of Dexedrine.

In the post-war period, the use of meth remained high. In Japan, the drug, which was commonly referred to as 'work pills,' or 'shabu,' was widely available to the public from the stocks that were no longer in use in the military. By the early 50s, the harmful effects of the drug prompted the Japanese authorities to ban its use. However, the ban never stopped the production of methamphetamine. Instead, its production moved to the underworld and increased.

In the 50's and early 60's, methamphetamines were widely prescribed for treating some medical conditions such as depression, obesity, alcoholism and narcolepsy among others. Its medical use however, was limited and regulated. The drug was prescribed in small doses unlike the amounts abusers use. Because of its wide availability, more people, especially students and truck drivers were increasingly abusing the drug. Medics started noticing a remarkable increase in the number of people who were addicted to methamphetamine and amphetamines used in asthma drugs. This prompted the introduction of measures to control the use of amphetamines. The Control Substances Act (1970) restricted the legitimate production of methamphetamine. This meant the drugs were no longer easily available and their abuse decreased significantly.

However, this also resulted in the proliferation of illegal laboratories as people discovered they could manufacture meth. The components needed to make the drug were easily obtainable since they could be found in common household products or chemicals. Some of the ingredients used to make crystal meth such as Sudafed, could be bought from local pharmacies or hardware stores without restrictions. Information on how to manufacture the drug was also easy to get.

Thereafter in the following decades, the use of meth spread from Californian cities like San Francisco where it was predominant to other US cities, with its effects being felt in areas that were previously unfamiliar with the drug. The illegal manufacture of meth in secret, high security laboratories that were mainly concentrated in Southern California increasingly spread to private homes.

Today, abuse of this drug is mainly facilitated by traffickers operating in criminal gangs, which are common in Mexico and whose operations also extend to the US. Despite tight international security restrictions, these gangs often find ways to smuggle large amounts of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine used to make crystal meth.

Methamphetamine has devastating effects in people who abuse it. Long-term abuse of meth causes brain tissue to degenerate in the same way Alzheimer's disease does. Abusers also tend to be malnourished and have severe dental problems. The 'high,' resulting from meth abuse comes from an increase in dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of wellness. In the long-term, meth use interferes with the mechanism of dopamine production and causes problems such as anxiety, mood disturbances, paranoia, confusion and severe psychotic problems such as delusions and hallucinations.

Crystal meth addiction is commonly treated with comprehensive behavioural interventions. The Matrix Model is one of the approaches used. This method combines individual counselling, behavioural therapy and family education. It includes the 12-step support, non-drug activities and drug testing. Treatment using medication is not common though it is in research.


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