The History of Meth

LaFayette JSHS: Ryan M.
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Methamphetamine is a mentally destructive drug. It causes panic attacks and anxiety. It causes hallucinations and delusions. It can even feel like something is crawling under your skin, or seeing something that’s not even there. The worst part about it is by the time the high is over, you might not even be there to tell your friends about it.
Methamphetamine is chemically similar to a drug called amphetamine, which was first synthesized in 1887 by a German chemist. In the 1920s, researchers experimented with using amphetamines to treat a number of diseases, such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. The drug was also suggested as a treatment for depression.

By 1927, scientists and doctors discovered that amphetamine raised patients’ blood pressure and enlarged their nasal passages. It also enlarged their bronchial passages, the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs when a person breathes. A variation of amphetamine was first commercially released as a decongestant under the name Benzedrine in 1928.

Benzedrine could be purchased at most local pharmacies with a prescription. The drug came in inhalers similar to the kind used by asthmatics. Many people who used Benzedrine discovered that the drug had a mild euphoric effect. It wasn’t long before people hit upon the idea of breaking open the inhaler to get the drug all at once. Inside the inhaler, a small strip of paper soaked in the drug could be removed and swallowed.

Slowly but surely, Benzedrine gained in popularity. By the time reports emerged about the spread of Benzedrine inhaler misuse, thousands of people all over the country were using the drug.

By the late 1930s amphetamine was being manufactured in pill form, further increasing the availability of the drug. This form of amphetamine was intended to combat narcolepsy, a disease in which sufferers fall asleep at unpredictable times.

Methamphetamine, which is a chemical related to amphetamine, was synthesized by a Japanese chemist in 1919. It had a very similar effect to amphetamine, with two important distinctions: methamphetamine was much more potent and much cheaper to make. It didn’t become widely available until 1942, when the Second World War was under way.

Meth and War

During World War II (1939–1945), methamphetamine was distributed to soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Pilots often took to the air with a supply of methamphetamine to help them stay alert during long missions. The Axis powers of Germany and Japan gave methamphetamine to their soldiers to help them stay awake and energized in combat. Methamphetamine allowed soldiers to perform better with less rest than they could otherwise. Many soldiers fighting for the Allied powers, such as Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, also used methamphetamine on the battlefield.

By the time the Axis powers surrendered in 1945, World War II had spread tremendous destruction across the world. Millions of people lost their lives, and many cities had been reduced to rubble. Some countries took a long time to rebuild completely. Amid all this ruin and chaos, almost no one noticed that in Japan, meth addiction was spreading throughout the population.

Postwar Addiction

One of the conditions of Japan’s surrender after World War II was that it virtually dismantle its military. Without a standing military, Japan no longer had a need for methamphetamine, and the drug was immediately banned.

However, there still was a lot of methamphetamine in storage. Many of the soldiers who had grown accustomed to using it did not want to stop now that the war was over. Organized crime syndicates realized that these addicts presented a huge potential customer base. Even though the drug was banned, it became widely available on the black market.

Many American servicemen returned from fighting in World War II, and later, from the Korean War (1950–1953), with a desire to get more methamphetamine.
Many American servicemen returned from fighting in World War II, and later, from the Korean War (1950–1953), with a desire to get more methamphetamine. It was still possible to buy Benzedrine and other types of amphetamine and methamphetamine with a prescription, but soon this wasn’t enough to keep up with user demand. Whatever the intended medical uses of amphetamine and methamphetamine, it was clear that more and more people were acquiring them for recreational use. By the 1950s, doctors had grown concerned about excessively prescribing Benzedrine to their patients. In response to spreading stimulant abuse in the United States, the U.S. Drug Abuse Regulation and Control Act of 1970 made amphetamine illegal.

Today’s Problem

A survey conducted of county law enforcement officials around the country shows that meth is considered the number-one drug problem today. Not only does the drug hurt users, it wreaks havoc upon communities and families, and siphons local and national law-enforcement money, both in preventive and cleanup measures.

The Rise of Bath Salts

Recent years have seen an explosive increase in the use of “bath salts,” a group of drugs whose effects are described as similar to meth or cocaine. These drugs contain synthetic chemicals similar to cathinone, a natural amphetamine-like stimulant. The active ingredient in bath salts is usually Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a psychoactive drug. Snorting or smoking bath salts is extremely dangerous and causes extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and violent tendencies as side effects. People who use bath salts become a danger to themselves and those around them. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 996 emergency calls about bath salts to poison control centers in 2013. A 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that bath salts are a factor in nearly 23,000 emergency room visits per year. For a while, these substances were sold legally online or in convenience stores, labeled as “bath salts” or “plant food.” In October 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency placed an emergency ban on bath salts. In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law a ban on several kinds of dangerous synthetic drugs, including bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Since September 2012, the possession, trafficking, import, and export of bath salts has been illegal throughout Canada.