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.
Development of Methamphetamine
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.
Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant drug - a more potent form of the drug amphetamine. It was first synthesised from ephedrine in 1918. In 1935 a study of the effects of amphetamine in hospital workers found that the most commonly reported effects were a sense of wellbeing and exhilaration, and reduced fatigue, while during World War II amphetamine was extensively used to combat fatigue and increase alertness in soldiers.
Today, amphetamines and amphetamine derivatives are used in the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
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.
Methamphetamine has been classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II stimulant, which makes it legally available only through a nonrefillable prescription. Medically it may be indicated for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as a short-term component of weight-loss treatments, but these uses are limited and it is rarely prescribed; also, the prescribed doses are far lower than those typically abused.
There are different forms of methamphetamine, generally distinguished by their appearance and perceived purity.
The three main forms are:
crystalline (ice or crystal)
Crystalline methamphetamine (ice) is a highly purified form of methamphetamine with a crystal-like appearance. The only difference between ice and the other methamphetamines, speed and base, is that ice undergoes additional refinement to remove impurities. Ecstasy, which is sold as a tablet, is also a methamphetamine derivative.
How Is Methamphetamine Abused?
Methamphetamine is taken orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Smoking or injecting the drug delivers it very quickly to the brain, where it produces an immediate, intense euphoria. Because the pleasure also fades quickly, users often take repeated doses, in a “binge and crash” pattern.
People who use methamphetamine long-term may experience anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and mood disturbances and display violent behavior. They may also show symptoms of psychosis, such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects crawling under the skin).
Chronic methamphetamine use is accompanied by chemical and molecular changes in the brain. Imaging studies have shown changes in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning. In studies of chronic methamphetamine users, severe structural and functional changes have been found in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in these individuals.
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