Methamphetamine has many names, such as crystal meth, perventine, rice, glass, perf or simply meth. In its purest form meth is a white powder with an acetone-like fragrance. It is one of the strongest stimulants ever created. Methamphetamine is not easily acquired in the Dutch party scene, because in West-Europe people mainly use amphetamines. In America, it's the other way around and methamphetamine is more popular than amphetamines.
It is frequently thought that amphetamine and methamfetamine are different names for the same substance, but that is absolutely not true. The effects are similar but methamphetamine is many times stronger, lasts longer and has a slightly different effect. This article will extensively discuss the difference between methamphetamine and amphetamine. The risks of this substance are also discussed.
History of methamphetamine
Amphetamine was first produced in Germany in 1887. Methamphetamine only came on the market in 1919. Some years later, during World War II, it was considered a good replacement for alcohol. The use of alcohol often led to fights between soldiers. Methamphetamine did not lead to escalation. Moreover, it was deployed at the front. This way soldiers could fight longer and feel less hungry.
The Wehrmacht also called it "tank chocolate" and at the Luftwaffe, it was named Fliegerchocolade. In Japan methamphetamine was administered to kamikaze pilots before their last mission. The Allies, on the other hand, preferred to give their pilots dex-amphetamine instead of methamphetamine. They did not like meth because it made the pilots restless. This side-effect is less pronounced in dex-amphetamine.
Adolf Hitler used large amounts of meth. He received daily injections. Also queen (then princess) Juliana is said to have used the strong stimulant regularly during the Second World War. According to some, this explains the headstrong behaviour of the princess at that time. Nowadays we cannot imagine our leaders using heavy stimulants excessively. However sixty years ago methamphetamine was not yet prohibited.
Explosion of methamphetamine addiction
During the 1950s methamphetamine was also prescribed on a large scale in America as a diet pill and antidepressant. After the war, it was a popular medicine in Japan where it was sold as Philopon. As it was easily obtained more and more students, truck drivers, athletes and others started to use the substance. When meth was introduced on the market as an injectable substance during the 1960s it led to an enormous wave of meth addicts. As a result of the many problems this caused, the American government in 1971 decided to prohibit all forms of use. Seeing that a large part of the population was addicted American bike gangs grabbed their chance, taking over production and distribution, so the number of addicts hardly declined through the years.
Because of constant demand, large meth labs were set up in California during the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels ran these large-scale production sites. Some laboratories produced up to 25 kilos a week. People would also produce on a smaller scale In kitchens and sheds. For this reason, manufacturing methamfetamine is also called cooking.
Methamphetamine as a serious problem in America
Nowadays meth use is still a problem in America. In 2012 methamphetamine was consumed by 1.2 million Americans.  Since it is a strongly addictive drug people quickly lose control of the substance. It also is a very strong stimulant which often keeps users awake for days. This lack of sleep can cause a delirium which makes users lose control, often harming themselves or people close to them. That explains why tackling the illegal production of methamphetamine has become a priority for the American government.
Biochemistry of methamphetamine
In the brain, methamphetamine attaches itself to the trace amine-associated receptor (TAA-receptor). [ 3] as a consequence the levels of three neurotransmitters in the brain increase, thanks to the following four processes:
- More dopamine and noradrenaline is issued.
- The reuptake of dopamine and noradrenaline is inhibited.
- Dopamine and noradrenaline are not broken down.
- Light increases of the issuing of serotonin take place.
The increase of serotonin and dopamine results in a euphoric feeling. Noradrenaline, in turn, ensures that the user experiences an enormous burst of energy.
`Biological availability' is the percentage of the substance which can be used after intake by the body. Generally, biological availability is the lowest after oral intake. After intake, a portion will not be absorbed or will be broken down by the stomach. Nasal intake also is not efficient as you will sneeze back a certain amount. For methamphetamine therefor the following bioavailability applies for the various modes of administration:
- Oral: 62.7%
- Nasal: 79%
- Inhalation: 90,3%
- Rectal: 99%
- Intravenous Injection: 100%
Difference between amphetamine and methamphetamineWhen the structural formulas of amphetamine and methamphetamine are compared, it is observed that chain on the benzene ring is longer in the case of methamphetamine. Both substances attach to the TAA-receptor. The affinity of methamphetamine with amphetamine is, however, ten times stronger. Using the same amount of methamphetamine as amphetamine leads to ten times as many receptors being occupied in the case of methamphetamine, making it ten times stronger. It is only logical that the immense power of the substance makes it easier to overdose.
A larger affinity also means that the effect lasts many times longer. The substance, after all, attaches stronger, detaches less quick and thus occupies the receptor for a longer time This results in a time of action of around ten and twenty hours. You can probably imagine that a substance that releases a lot of noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin for a prolonged time can totally exhaust the user.
Neurotoxicity of methamphetamine
Research on test animals and people has shown that methamphetamine, in contrast to amphetamine, is neurotoxic. It damages the dopamine neurons. [ 5] There is a clear correlation between multiple meth use and an increased risk of getting Parkinson's Disease. [ 7] As a result of the use of methamphetamine dopamine neurons are damaged and permanent changes take place in the brain. Even when used sporadically, changes are observed in the structure of the brain. After normal withdrawal symptoms of meth addiction, a period of months follows of post-acute withdrawal symptoms.  During this stretch in which one feels very unstable the brain is partly restored. Partly, because the brain will never entirely heal after a meth addiction.
The occupation of the TAA-receptor in the brain by methamphetamine results in an increase of dopamine levels. When someone is a long-time user the body will react by breaking down a number of TAA-receptors. The body does this in an attempt to find its natural balance and bringing down dopamine levels. As a consequence one has fewer TAA-receptors and more and more are necessary to bring about the same effect. This process is called habituation.
When a meth addict stops using the number of TAA-receptors in the brain is lower compared to a healthy person, as a result of which certain biochemical responses run at a lower level. This is results in severe physical symptoms. These complaints are called withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, after abstention, the body starts to rapidly produce new TAA-receptors and after some days these acute withdrawal symptoms will disappear.
However, a meth addiction is many times more severe than the addiction to heroin, coke or speed. If a meth addict does not get his fix in time he can completely lose it. A craving meth addict will exhibit extremely aggressive and fearless behaviour. Every form of empathy, reason or judgment seems to be lacking at such times. In America where some districts are crowded with meth addicts, this presents a big problem. There it frequently happens that a meth addict freaks out. Fortunately, this is an uncommon phenomenon in Europe.
Medical application of methamphetamine
If you examine the side effects of methamphetamine, it seems improbable that this substance has a medicinal application, even though it does exist. Methamphetamine, just like amphetamine, has a chiral center. This means that there are so-called left and right-turning molecules. Both molecules are each other's mirror image. Therefore these contain the exact same atoms (the molecular formula is equal), have the same boiling and melting point, solubility, viscosity and other material properties. In fact, they are virtually the same substances, only their biochemical impact differs.
Think of a left and right glove. They look the same, but the left glove only fits on the left hand and the right glove on the right hand. In the same way, there also exists a left and right methamfetamine molecule. When methamfetamine is produced in a drug laboratory, it will turn out as much left-turning as right-turning methamphetamine. A mixture of both left and right-turning molecules is called a racemic compound. A pharmaceutical company, on the other hand, possesses the very sophisticated equipment, as a result of which only one alternative arises.
The right-turning methamphetamine molecule fits the TAA-receptor well. These ensure that the meth-characteristic biochemical response takes place in the brain, which results in an energy boost and a euphoric feeling. The left-turning variant does not fit the TAA-receptor so well which results in a less effective biochemical reaction. So no pleasant feeling arises. This alternative is therefore much less addictive and hardly stimulates. [ 9][ 10]
Methamfetamine also has the property of opening the nasal cavities. This applies to both variants. For this reason, the left-turning alternative of methamfetamine, called levomethamphetamine, is prescribed to people with allergic reactions such as hay fever. The nasal cavities open with the use of levomethamphetamine, but without the strong stimulating effect. A disadvantage is that levomethamphetamine is also neurotoxic. It is therefore unwise to use this substance for a prolonged period of time.
Moreover, levomethamphetamine serves as a precursor for the anti-Parkinson medicine Selegiline.  Strangely enough, Selegiline has nerve-protecting properties. Unfortunately, a small part of Selegiline is converted by the brain into methamphetamine, as a result of which the neurotoxicity remains and partly annuls the nerve protecting property. For this reason, the medicine has been replaced by another substance which is not neurotoxic.
In the past dex-methamphetamine (right-turning methamphetamine) has also been used by people who suffer from ADHD. [ 13] The advantages didn't compensate the side-effects. For this reason, it is no longer prescribed for people with an attention deficit. Dex-amphetamine is still prescribed to people who do not react well to Ritalin. Dex-amphetamine is a right-turning amphetamine and, like was explained above, was also by used by allied forces to keep soldiers alert. In rare cases, dex-methamphetamine is prescribed off-label to people who suffer from narcolepsy. This is a neurological disorder which results in excessive sleeping.
Use of methamphetamine
One can smoke, sniff, swallow and inject methamphetamine. When it is smoked or injected, chances of addiction or overdosing are bigger than with swallowing or sniffing. Because at Azarius we absolutely dissuade the use of methamphetamine, we will not discuss the many forms of administration of this substance in detail.
A dose lies between 5 and 60 mg. Since methamphetamine is rather expensive, in comparison with amphetamine, it costs approximately sixty euro per gram, it often gets cut. As a result, the user will not always know the strength of the powder and the correct dose is hard to determine. This is yet another reason for not using the substance.
If one injects, sniffs or smokes meth one experiences the effect almost immediately. When methamphetamine is taken orally it takes approximately a half hour before the first effects start to act. Compared to amphetamines the development is frequently described as less predominant. When it is smoked or sniffed, a strong rush is felt at the beginning. Moreover, the feeling of self-worth increases, one is self-confident and dares to open up.
It also results in a euphoric mood and the user feels energetic. The problem is that compared with amphetamines one is much less conscious of energy use, which often results in the crossing of limits. Some users claim that methamphetamine has a much stronger aphrodisiac effect compared to amphetamines. The use of a powerful stimulant often leads to temporary erectile dysfunction, as a result of which men have trouble discharging the excited feeling the drug causes.
In addition to the above-mentioned psychological effects, the following physical reactions occur: appetite is suppressed, the heart rate and blood pressure increases, the user gets a dry mouth, a temporary increase in muscle strength is observed with improved stamina and an increased body temperature.
Because of the following risks the use of methamphetamine is strongly discouraged:
- Methamphetamine is very addictive.
- Once addicted it takes months before the withdrawal symptoms have completely disappeared. This is due to the fact that the drug is neurotoxic and the brain needs much time to restore (if possible).
- Because it is a very strong substance, an overdose is always possible, which can lead to death.
- When using the substance one tends to stay awake until the body is totally exhausted.
- Addicts that don't get their fix on time can display extremely aggressive behaviour.
- By staying awake for long periods of time a delirium may be caused.
- Once addicted the brain can be damaged in such a way that it leads to diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson. One can also develop permanent psychoses or serious amnesia.
- An addict will decline rapidly. Dentures will, for instance, take a heavy hit. The high energy consumption and lack of appetite can lead to serious underweight. Furthermore, there is a large risk of developing severe inflammations.
The moral of the story is: there are better, safer and just more fun substances than methamphetamine. This article also has tried to make clear that methamphetamine and amphetamine differ completely. Meth is without a doubt more dangerous than speed. Especially the neurotoxic effects cannot be underestimated.
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