Methamphetamine And Its Long-Term Effects
Methamphetamine addiction dates back centuries, although it was first synthesized in 1919 to act as a synthetic substitute for ephedrine. Ephedrine use can be dated back over 5,000 years ago in China while cathinone first used in East Africa in the 14th Century, derived from the Ephedra mahjong and Catha edulis plants respectively. These were known for their appetite suppressant, stimulant and bronchodilation properties.
Clinically, Methamphetamine was not used until the early 1930s but its abuse followed almost immediately. A 250mg dose of amphetamine was easily found in Benzedrine inhalers that could be purchased over the counter. It was contained in a cotton plug and intended to be used as a topical decongestant. However, the drug was extracted and injected into abusers’ bloodstream or even ingested directly. This saw the breakout of a worldwide epidemic of amphetamine abuse over the following decades resulting in legislation to control its production and dispensing in many countries in the 1950s-1960s.
The “drug culture” of the 1960s in the United States saw a rise in the use of drugs such as heroin, marijuana, and LSD. This, together with the different movements that arose, the establishment of the hippie culture, psychedelic music gave rise to this culture which promoted testing of boundaries. Methamphetamine played a big role in ending the 1967 “Summer of love” which saw the explosion and documentation of an underground alternative youth culture that had been slowly bubbling over the years, known as the hippie phenomenon. Young people from all over the world traveled to San Francisco to experiment with sex and drugs. One of these drugs was Methamphetamine, which proved highly toxic as its abusers started experiencing its lethal effects. It was recognized for its potential for physiological dependence and tolerance. High doses of the drug led to a dysphoric, psychosis-like state. Many influencers, including popular musicians, came out to campaign against its use through the use of public service announcements promoting the warning “Speed kills” in 1969.
Following all its ‘bad press’ and the passage of the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, Methamphetamine and other illicit amphetamines were greatly restricted. When the black market was sampled for these drugs in the mid-1970s, only a mere 10% of the samples contained methamphetamine. However, a new wave of amphetamines would rise in the 1970s with ‘look-alikes’ being manufactured. These were a combination of ephedrine, caffeine, phenylpropanolamine, sympathomimetic amines, which could be obtained over-the-counter and penetrate the blood-brain barrier less effectively then methamphetamine. The use of this look-alike resulted in dangerous increases of pulse and blood pressure from the significant increase in stimulation of the cardiovascular system. This saw an increase in reports of emergency visits mostly for substances containing phenylpropanolamine in the 1970s and 80s. In an effort to create a version of the drug that was less potent and safer, “Biker speed” was produced in clandestine laboratories through a fairly complex chemical process. However, the use of the product was not widespread and was not favored.
The Making of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine need laboratory equipment to be produced. Therefore, several makeshift labs have cropped up in underground basements, crowded trailer parks, residential backyards, and motorhomes mostly found in the rural areas. These amateur chemists, commonly known as “cookers” combine the explosive, flammable ingredients in their sites and the cookers are most often abusers of their products. These cooking sites are often discovered following serious fires and explosions that attract the attention of the authorities. This is often a common result when the ephedrine reduction process is used to make methamphetamine. This process is pretty simple and employs a strong H+ donor and a catalyst to convert 1-ephedrine into pure d-methamphetamine through a highly volatile chemical reaction. Although very dangerous, this is the most common method used to produce methamphetamine in the United States, therefore giving “street” samples a composition of about 90% d-methamphetamine.
Seeing the prevalence of the drug, the US Justice Department Drug Enforcement Administration, in 1996 made recommendations regarding the education of the general public and police in the identification of illicit laboratory sites, safety, and clean-up concerning the same.
How is methamphetamine abused?
Methamphetamine comes in various forms and can be snorted, smoked, injected or orally ingested. Depending on the geographical region, the method of abuse varies and has changed over time. However, currently, the most common method of ingesting it is by smoking.
Smoking or injecting methamphetamine directly into the bloodstream are the fastest ways of receiving its desired effect, causing a “rush” that is very pleasurable but only lasts a few minutes. Oral ingestion and snorting produce a euphoric effect with the former lasting 15-20 minutes and the latter 3-5 minutes. Users often use the “binge and crash” pattern when using methamphetamine because its effects last only so long before they need to feel it again. Some users simply increase the dosage of the drug. Others indulge in a form of binging known as a “run” through which they forgo sleep and food while continuing to take the drug for days at a time.
Street names of Methamphetamine
As expected, methamphetamine has been given various names throughout history and depending on different cultures. Some of its most common names include:
Methamphetamine can be purchased in a variety of dosages. The prices of these vary depending on location but generally, it can be purchased for about $60 to $80. It can also be purchased as a “line”, an “eight ball”, a quarter or 1 oz.
Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse
Whether snorted, injected or smoked, methamphetamine is highly addictive. The drug affects the brain central nervous system and the brain. Methamphetamine increases the levels of dopamine, the body’s neurotransmitter thus stimulating brain cells, enhancing the user’s mood and body movements.
The moment methamphetamine is introduced to the body, it produces an intensely pleasurable sensation known as a “flash” or “rush”. This happens through the release of high levels of dopamine in the brain when the drug is either smoked or injected into the bloodstream. When the drug is snorted, it does not create a rush but instead, creates a euphoric sensation. Even the smallest doses of the drug can cause increased wakefulness in physical activity, making people too hyperactive to even remember to eat. Given that the drug is also an appetite suppressant, users of the drug tend to go for days without even thinking about food.
Methamphetamine also creates an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Heat stroke is also another common effect together with an irregular heartbeat. Methamphetamine users can also be seen to show symptoms of anxiety, paranoia, confusion, irritability, and aggressiveness. They cannot tell what is happening in the environment around them and also suffer from prolonged insomnia and tremors. Some of these effects, such as convulsions and hyperthermia can be fatal and also lead to permanent damage to the blood vessels in the brain, leading to stroke.
The drug also seems to lead to increased libido making it the go-to drug for those seeking this effect alone.
These effects can be summarized as:
• decreased appetite
• increase wakefulness in physical activity
• dilation of pupils
• disturbed sleep patterns
• bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behavior
• panic and psychosis
• convulsions, seizures, and death from high doses
• rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
• increased body temperature and blood pressure
• increased libido
Long-term use f Methamphetamine has several negative effects. The most prevalent of this is the addiction. Addiction is a relapsing, chronic disease characterized by the need to seek out and use more drugs, accompanied by molecular and functional changes in the brain. As with other drugs, tolerance to the pleasurable effect of methamphetamine increases requiring abusers to take higher doses of the drug to maintain the high or achieve a similar experience as the initial ones. This tolerance also leads users t find more effective ways of introducing the drug into their system and take it more frequently in order to achieve the desired effect. Users are often unable to experience any other feelings of pleasure other than that provided by the drug itself, thus fueling further abuse.
Other than the addictive properties of methamphetamine, chronic abusers may show symptoms of significant confusion, anxiety, violent behavior, mood disturbances, and insomnia. Psychotic features are also common such as paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations as well as delusions (a common one is that of insects creeping under the abuser’s skin). These symptoms can last for months or even years after the abuser has quit abusing the drug. They can lead to self-harm of the abuser, often trying to rid themselves of the objects of their delusions.
Through neuroimaging studies, doctors have noticed significant functional and structural changes in the brain associated with chronic methamphetamine abuse. This may account for the several cognitive and emotional problems that are observed in chronic methamphetamine users. Methamphetamine has also proven to have negative effects on the non-neural brain cells known as microglia. These cells work by defending the brain against infectious agents and also by removing damaged neurons. However, methamphetamine abusers have been found to have double the number of these cells which attack healthy neurons, explaining some of its neurotoxic effects. The good news is that studies show that some of the neurobiological effects of chronic methamphetamine abuse seem to be partially reversible. Abstinence from the drug resulted in less production of excess microglial activation over time. Abusers who stayed away from the drug for a period of at least two years also showed signs of having the same number of microglia as non-users. Also, some neuronal recovery can be seen following prolonged abstinence of at least 14 months, improving performance in motor and verbal memory tests. However, some brain functions did not show any improvement even after prolonged periods of abstinence.
A common tell-tale sign of a chronic methamphetamine user is severe tooth loss and decay. This is caused by poor dental hygiene as well as teeth grinding and dry mouth caused by the drug. Skin sores are also common because of abusers picking and scratching at their skin to get rid of delusional insects imagined to be crawling underneath.
These effects can be summarized as:
• memory loss
• increased destructibility
• mood disturbances
• psychosis including paranoia repetitive motor activity and hallucinations
• deficits in thinking and motor skills
• severe weight loss
• severe dental problems
• aggressive or violent behavior
• liver, kidney and lung damage
• infectious diseases and abscesses if injected
• nose tissue destruction if sniffed
• damage to the brain similar to epilepsy Alzheimer’s disease and stroke
Methamphetamine Effects In Pregnancy
Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy has not been sufficiently studied because of small sample sizes and the inability to determine whether other drugs have been used besides methamphetamine. However, whatever research has been done points to increased rates of premature delivery, low birth weight, placental abruption, as well as lethargy, heart and brain abnormalities in the babies. Children born to mothers who abused methamphetamine have also been found to have neurobehavioural problems including decreased arousal, increased stressed and varying attention impairments in these children.
Methamphetamine And HIV/AIDS, Is There A Relation?
Methamphetamine abuse raises the risk of transmitting and contracting of hepatitis B/C and HIV. This does not only stand for those abusers who inject themselves with the drug but for non-injecting abusers as well. For those who inject methamphetamine, these diseases are mainly spread through the sharing and re-use of syringes, needles or whatever other equipment is used (blades are at times used). However, for those who abuse the drug in other ways, they are still at a high risk of contracting such diseases because of the culture of risky sexual behavior associated with the drug, its intoxicating judgment-altering and inhibition effects. Methamphetamine has also shown to pose a greater risk to patients living with HIV to developing AIDS.
Because methamphetamine is associated with an increase in libido, it can be attributed to risky sexual behavior both among homosexual men and heterosexual partners. Studies have shown a higher prevalence in the spread of HIV among men who have sex with other men. However, although methamphetamine increases libido in the short term, it is known to hinder sexual function in men n the long-run.
Is Methamphetamine Similar To Cocaine?
Although the two drugs have very similar psychological and behavioral effects, there are some major differences in their function and their basic mechanisms. Cocaine is quickly removed from the body and is almost completely metabolized. However, methamphetamine remains for a much longer time in the brain, leading to prolonged effects. Although both drugs work by increasing the levels of dopamine in the body, methamphetamine use has shown to lead t a significantly higher release of dopamine.
Here is a list of the differences between cocaine and methamphetamine:
• Methamphetamine is a stimulate while cocaine is both a stimulant and local anesthetic
• Methamphetamine is made by the man while cocaine is derived from a plant
• Smoking methamphetamine produces a long-lasting high while the high produced by smoking cocaine is short-lived
• The body gets rid of 50% of methamphetamine in a span of 12 hours while it does the same for cocaine in only 1 hour
• Methamphetamine blocks the re-uptake of dopamine and also increases dopamine release while cocaine only blocks its reuptake.
• Methamphetamine has a limited medical use for treatment of ADHD, weight loss and narcolepsy while cocaine’s medical use is limited for use as a local anesthetic in some surgical procedures.
Some drugs have been suggested to act as a gateway into the world of other drugs. Typical examples of these are alcohol and tobacco. There has been inconclusive evidence for marijuana. However, both cocaine and methamphetamine fulfill the criteria to be called gateway drugs. It is common to find methamphetamine abusers who do not drink or smoke, many of them young people. Many abusers report starting with over-the-counter drugs before fully going for methamphetamine. Competitive high-school athletes have also been reported to use the drug t enhance their performance before a competition, acting on the misinformation that methamphetamine makes them just a little stronger. Children who have it prescribed to them for legitimate reasons discover the potential for its abuse for themselves years to come.
In certain areas, it is not unusual to find young teenage girls using methamphetamine as an appetite suppressant. In most of these cases, you will likely hear the perception that methamphetamine is safer than cocaine because it is prescribed for the treatment of learning disorders or for weight control. This is, however, a very erroneous way of thinking and young people should be counseled on the potential dangers of abusing methamphetamine or any drug for that matter unless prescribed by a doctor. Many parents are now shying away from exposing their children to even the prescribed version of this drug for fear that their children may develop a tolerance for it and become abusers in the future. More natural, less extreme methods are being used to treat these conditions
Treatment Of Methamphetamine Addiction
Even before treatment begins, it is useful to have a professional diagnose a methamphetamine addict. This is because it is often misdiagnosed as a mental disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. A professional who is well experienced in addiction treatment will be able to discern between signs and symptoms of addiction and a mental disorder. Methamphetamine addicts must also be treated with care because they often portray extreme reactions such as aggression, paranoia, violence and irrational thinking. Their delusions may lead them to believe that you are out to harm them or they are going to be arrested rather than helped.
Methamphetamine abuse is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome. It needs at least 30 to 60 days just for the detox phase of treatment and additional time to work on underlying problems that lead to addiction. It is recommended to develop an individualized, comprehensive, long-term treatment program. Detox alone does not serve the purpose of treatment. The patient will need to undergo several sessions of therapy to prevent relapse. Methamphetamine is a very dangerous drug and sometimes, once treatment fails the first time, you may never get a second chance at treatment. The patient requires adequate support and aftercare to enable them to transition to a healthy lifestyle.
Because methamphetamine severely affects the brain, it is uncommon that an addict will just decide to quit on their own. This is because of the lasting hallucinations and delusions that stay on for months or even years even after stopping the use of the drug. The addict may be past the point of realizing the harm they are doing to themselves. Intervening in such situations is better sooner than later.
One such treatment is the Matrix Model. This is a 16-week comprehensive treatment approach that includes family education, behavioral therapy, drug testing, a 12-step support, and encouragement to engage in non-drug-related activities. During and after treatment, maintaining abstinence is the crucial thing that needs to be done so that the methamphetamine addict can fully benefit from the treatment and have a better chance at recovery. Maintaining a proper diet is also important because methamphetamine abusers tend to be malnourished and lacking in appetite. Treatment should also include physical changes brought about by proper hygiene practices. Because their teeth may have deteriorated during their addiction phase, recovering addicts should see a dentist decide whether the situation is recoverable or what the next steps should be. Sometimes, it’s not just about feeling good but looking the best you possibly could that gives patients the motivation to go on with their treatments and therapy.