A Complete History of Meth
History of Meth
The chemical revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took the world by storm. New chemicals were regularly being created, and the way of life was rapidly altering from a relatively sedate society to an industrialized one. Drugs could block pain; chemicals such as ether and nitrous oxide could knock you out—there was seemingly no end to them.
The biggest powerhouse of the chemical world at the time was Germany. Names such as Merck and Bayer produced tons of chemicals every year, and one of the big ones was ammonia using the Haber process—a discovery that revolutionized agriculture thanks to the industrial creation of fertilizers.
Amphetamine had been discovered in Berlin in 1887, and it was studied extensively in the ‘20s and ‘30s. It was synthesized from ephedrine. Using a similar route, a Japanese scientist called Akira Ogata created methamphetamine in 1920.
Methamphetamine gained a lot of attention when it was realized that it allowed people to work longer and faster. It helps them work through the night and rapidly adapt to a nocturnal schedule—vital when on guard duty or when undertaking long-range bombing missions.
Use of meth was so common during World War II that at least 200 million doses were given to the Wehrmacht (the German Army) alone, with more doses being given to airmen and sailors. The Japanese also made widespread use of it, including on so-called kamikaze missions, and when the war ended, stockpiles rapidly flooded the civilian market.
Between 1945 and 1955, Japan saw its first meth epidemic. The country was reeling from losing WWII and being hit with the world’s first nuclear weapons, and it realized it needed to industrialize if it was to become a superpower again. Consequently, workers were given meth to increase production and churn out goods at a never-ending rate. Meth spread to various islands in the Pacific and eventually spread to the West Coast.
Meth tablets were also marketed as weight-loss pills and inflammation in the US. They also were used for nonmedical reasons. Those who needed to perform better like athletes and those who tended to have stressful day-to-day lives also took it to effectively get more hours in the day. At the time, however, they had to be prescribed, and abuse of all amphetamines grew.
Inhalers were a common target. Meth makes it easier for asthmatics to breathe, and people found you could disassemble these inhalers to get at the meth-soaked strip inside. This ensured that
The drug started heading more and more underground in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and even biker gangs were starting to cook and use the drug. The first examples of seriously erratic behavior starting being noticed in the medical literature, and violence was a common sign. Meth inhalers were banned in 1959 due to their side effects and potential for abuse.
Meth was effectively banned in 1970 thanks to the Controlled Substances Act. However, this merely slowed black market production down for a while. Before long, people realized you could synthesize meth from common cold medications, including those containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The government response in 1983 was to restrict the use of these chemicals, and most major chains require people to show ID before buying formulations with these drugs. As with most forms of regulation, this did little to curb the production of meth.
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What didn’t help was that two Mexicans started to smuggle industrial quantities of ephedrine into the US, and they quickly became the suppliers for most of the market. When the precursors are readily available and reasonably priced, there was no need to step down the tablet (render it less pure), and this meant that batches of very pure meth hit the street, resulting in a series of overdoses that hit the headlines.
In 2000, it was reported that in various parts of the US, meth is the number one drug of choice for drug users, particularly among the West Coast of the US. As with most drugs, dealers and manufacturers are adept at evading the law, and there’s only so much the law can do to stop them.
Often, the drugs are made in Mexico and shipped over, and these large-scale Mexican labs account for 80 percent of all meth currently sold in the United States. Despite laws designed to keep meth out, the US border is very porous, and it is very hard to keep these drugs out.
There are three conditions that warrant meth use: ADHD and severe obesity can be treated with meth, and the use of meth in the treatment of narcolepsy has been shown to be clinically beneficial.
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