What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine or “Meth”, a derivative of amphetamine is an extremely powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The federal government categorizes it as a Schedule II stimulant because of its high potential for abuse. Many states also categorize it as a dangerous and illegal drug.
Street Names for Meth
Like many other drug distributors and users, meth manufacturers, distributors and users have developed more than 170 different slang or street terms used for meth. The use of street terms allows meth participants to discuss meth related activities around unsuspecting parties without fear of being detected. Some of the more frequently used terms include crank, ice, boo, chicken feed, geep, tick, scootie, jet fuel, wake me up, lemon drop, schmiz, shabu, glass, shi-shi, zip, spoosh and load of laundry.
The choice of terms used is usually relevant to a geographic region and can readily change over time.
How Meth was Developed
Methamphetamine was first developed in 1919 by a Japanese pharmacologist. Although its initial uses were for medical purposes, its ability to increase energy and to enable users to function without sleep made it attractive for military purposes during World War II. Many reports indicate the German army frequently distributed a form of methamphetamine to weary troops in attempt to counter battle fatigue. The ease and quick turnaround of the ephedrine reduction method of manufacture made it the popular choice of Army officials and is the likely source of the label “Nazi Method”. Some authors have mistakenly credited the German Army with the development of meth.
Meth has undergone both legal and illegal uses in the United States. As early as the 1930s it was used therapeutically to treat asthma and epileptic seizures. When the effects became more apparent its use was prohibited in the United States but major pharmaceutical companies were allowed to manufacture it for export. A substantial portion distributed in Mexico and Canada found its way back into the United States and was sold on the black market for illicit purposes.
Historically, outlaw motorcycle gangs operating on the West Coast controlled illicit meth production. Members of these groups or their employees cooked meth for both financial gain and for personal use. Some over-the-road drivers used "speed", an early form of meth, to keep them alert during long work stretches. During the 1970s meth was a primary appetite suppressant in prescription diet pills. The illicit demand for meth resulted in forged prescriptions, theft and a black market.
The re-emergence of a significant meth problem was realized as early as 1983 in California. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program (ADAM) and the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), all have indicated a pronounced increase in the manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine. The growth in clandestine labs has spread across many sections of the United States and the problem is acute in the Midwest. The simple manufacturing process, the availability of precursor materials, the longer high and the substantial profit margin all contribute to increases in meth production and use. The Law Enforcement response has been severe. Many states have increased penalties for manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine. Numerous multi-jurisdictional task forces have been formed to increase enforcement activities. The Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1966 targeted the mail order industry and chemical supply companies as well as increasing penalties for possession, trafficking, and manufacturing of precursor chemicals and paraphernalia. Some jurisdictions now regulate the sale of ephedrine based cold medicines and many have cooperative agreements with retail facilities to report purchases of meth ingredients. While these measures all help to attack the meth problem they are simply not enough. The need to increase treatment, intervention and prevention programs is well apparent. If we are to be successful, our programs must be comprehensive and must attack meth on a variety of fronts.
How Meth is Produced
Obviously, this web page is not designed to teach one how to manufacture meth. However, basic knowledge of the process enhances one’s understanding of the dangers involved in both the manufacture and use of methamephetamine as well as educating law-abiding citizens on how to determine if a meth lab is on or near your property.
Meth is a man-made drug. There are two primary methods for cooking meth, P-2-P and ephedrine reduction. Both processes received their name from the primary precursor (ingredients) chemicals used in the production of meth. The P-2-P (phenyl-2-propanone) method is primarily used by large drug cartels in Mexico. The possession or purchase of P-2-P is illegal in the United States. International drug cartels have access to P-2-P through illegal markets and manufacture meth in Mexico and later distribute the finished product in the United States. P-2-P was legally available in the past and west coast motorcycle gangs utilized the P-2-P cooking method when they controlled the methamphetamine trade. The government’s restrictions on P-2-P forced meth production to take a different direction.
The prohibition against P-2-P in the United States has resulted in strong reliance upon ephedrine reduction. In this process, methamphetamine manufacturers commonly referred to as cooks, chemically extract ephedrine or psuedoephedrine from over-the-counter cold medicines. Although meth users, cooks, and law enforcement officials refer to meth labs, they have little or no resemblance to one’s normal image of a scientific laboratory. Clandestine labs are often simple, crude and consist of common household items. Meth can be cooked in basements, old buildings, motel rooms, camping trailers and moving vehicles.
Once the ephedrine has been extracted, the cook will manufacture “Nazi” or “Red P” meth. Both “recipes” utilize heat and chemical reactions to manufacture the finished product, Methamphetamine Hydrochloride. The process is essentially the same with the exception of the agents used in the reaction. In Nazi meth, the cook will add lithium strips, usually extracted from batteries, and anhydrous ammonia to the reduced ephedrine to start the chemical reaction. In the Red P recipe, red phosphorous, usually extracted from match tips, and iodine are used in lieu of lithium and anhydrous. Most of the ingredients used in ephedrine reduction can be purchased legally, thus contributing to its popularity. Common household items used in the production of meth include denatured alcohol, ether, salt, drain cleaner, camping fuel, paint thinner and lye. Obviously, most of us would be reluctant to ingest ingredients. However, most of these precursor ingredients are destroyed or consumed in the manufacturing process and the finished product does not contain the poisons used in the process. The availability of these items and the simplicity of the process contribute to meth’s growing popularity.
Previously we noted meth labs often consist of items commonly found at home. Common items used in clandestine labs include coffee filters, hot plates, electric skillets, Pyrex dishes or bake ware, plastic tubing, funnels, rubber gloves, breathing masks and glass jars. Many law-abiding citizens have these items at home. Law enforcement officials become suspicious when they find unusual combinations of these items and/or find them in unusual parts of the house.
Earlier we noted the use of anhydrous ammonia in the production of Nazi meth. Unlike most of the other precursor ingredients, anhydrous is not readily available to most citizens. Meth cookers often steal anhydrous from farms or agricultural chemical distributors. Because it is commonly stored as a gas, the meth cooker will drain the anhydrous into a 20 lb propane tank, the same one you might have on your gas barbeque grill. Again, it is not illegal or necessarily suspicious to possess one of these tanks. However, if the tank has been used to transport anhydrous the valves will discolor to a bluish tint and is often an indicator that meth production is afoot. Other cooks will drain the anhydrous into a plastic or Styrofoam cooler and transport it in its liquid state.
How to Tell if Someone is Using Meth
There are several physical and behavioral indicators of meth use. Chronic meth users are typically gaunt, maintain poor hygiene and have rotten teeth. They are frequently paranoid and may have skin sores from picking at imaginary bugs. Extended and frequent meth use also results in pale discolored skin and extreme weight loss.
Behaviorally, meth users display an array of indicators. Because meth is metabolized slowly, 50% remains in the user’s body 12 hours after consumption. The high and its related behaviors will be readily identifiable for a long period of time. Meth users experiencing the “high” will have an increased energy level, can go without sleep for extended periods and may appear hyperactive. “Binge” users will exhibit behaviors commonly associated with the high but will “tweak” during the down period and may become dangerously aggressive.
As with most addictive drugs, users who have gone without the drug for an extended period will be irritable, easily agitated, and may also display nervous features indicating their need for the drug.
As a result of the toxic and combustible chemicals and the infusion of heat, meth cookers frequently will have burn marks on their hands and arms. Many meth cooks are also users and may display the other indicators associated with use.
Essay from a Former Meth Addict
I grew up in what I believed to be a typical family in a typical midwestern town with no significant problems that I can remember. My mother got pregnant before she was married, and my parents were quite young; but all in all things seemed “normal.” I was never abused, neglected, or mistreated. Mom didn’t work outside the home. She did all the room-mother stuff, the PTA and was a Brownie Scout leader, but my parents weren’t really outgoing people – and I tended to be somewhat shy. I have a brother who is four years younger than me. I guess by most standards, you could say I was rather spoiled. There isn’t anything specific I can remember throughout my childhood that could have possibly led me to do some of the things I was to later do; or behave in some of the irresponsible and stupid ways I’ve behaved. But needless to say, I did it just the same.
Sometime around the age of fifteen I began to enjoy drinking. Still being kind of shy, a few beers helped me to relax and talk to people without feeling self-conscious. Whether or not I actually was I can’t say for sure, but all my life I’ve felt fat and awkward. It’s strange, too, because I twirled a baton all through high school – and even did well in competitive bodybuilding later on – but as a whole, I never felt comfortable in my own body. It was as though I was always about a half step outside the “inner circle,” so to speak.
I took all the typing, office practice, bookkeeping, and shorthand classes my high school had to offer during my junior and senior year. I graduated in 1979 and had no problems finding secretarial work. In fact, I’ve done secretarial work most of my life, even though I hated it and found it dreadfully boring!
It was at one of my early secretarial positions that I met a doctor who gave me some samples of a prescription diet pill called Fastin! Those things were wonderful! Just take one in the morning, and you were able to control your appetite all day and even have energy left over to exercise. Besides, I loved that feeling of going just a little bit faster than everyone around me. Well, if one works this well, just think what two can do. (This is the way my mind works. I want everything, and I want it NOW)! It wasn’t too awfully long before I was taking too many pills, partying way too much, and sleeping way too little. Doc would refill my prescription twice a month, but when it looked like she was going to have to up it to three, she cut me off cold turkey! Damn her!
I spent the next six months trying every street speed there was in pill form. Some of it made me sick, none of it made my skinny, and all of it made me bitchy! I was about six months into my second marriage by this time, so you can imagine how I felt about this mess. Finally I said to hell with it, and managed to get through speed withdrawal -- not a pretty sight. I stayed clean and sober for the next eight years. That’s not to say I was sane, but I didn’t use drugs or alcohol. I used bodybuilding.
Like everything else in my life, I couldn’t just go to the gym for the purpose of improving my health. I had to sink my entire being into it. It wasn’t long before I was training, starving, and running like an idiot just to bring home a trophy. It was as if that was the only way I had of feeling that I mattered.
My husband was an alcoholic and had a unique way of making me feel like dirt every time he was in the same room with me. Once we got divorced, he began to get his act together – really said a lot for me huh?
Not too awfully long after my divorce I took a part time job waiting tables at a restaurant/bar to supplement one of my secretarial jobs. I was still training a little bit – my ex and I were seeing each other again, trying to work things out – and I still didn’t drink or do drugs. But things with him weren’t going well, I was always worried about money, and no matter what I did, I still felt like this fat, awkward, little girl standing outside the circle.
The bar atmosphere and world of working nights kind of sucked me in before I realized it. Within six months I quit my office job and started working full time nights. Within another year I was promoted to assistant manager, and after I’d been there two and a half years, the manager was let go for whatever reason, and I was promoted to replace her. I was good at my job and I liked it, but somewhere that shy, awkward feeling would not go away. Oh, I could fake it – I could talk to people and run the store with my eyes closed. It all just felt so mechanical, unless, of course, I had a good buzz going. I usually started work at 3:00 in the afternoon, and by 4:00 I was hitting the beer tap. I drank virtually all night. I never allowed myself to cross the line where I couldn’t run the store though. I came close a couple times, but never where anyone would notice. The first year went pretty good. The store showed a good increase in sales. Employee turnover rate declined dramatically, and my net-profit was outstanding.
I somehow found myself married to one of my fellow bartenders and we managed to have a beautiful baby boy. Then shortly after my son was born, I got a new supervisor. He had gone through a bad divorce, he didn’t like women, and he hated me. Mostly because I had this really bad habit of being honest to a fault, and when he admitted to me that he didn’t know how to run the store I agreed with him. That could have been part of it. Anything could have been a part of it. We just didn’t get along, and it wasn’t long before he was looking for every little mistake I made. If I was working 50 hours a week, he wanted 60. If I worked days, he wanted nights. I had this new baby at home, a fat, lazy husband who didn’t work half the time, and there was SPEED all around me!
This particular establishment has been, and probably still is, THE place to score dope in town. I didn’t have to mention to very many people that I just needed a little extra “bump” to get me through the night, and my “best friend” got me some crank. I’ll never forget it. She had it in a “bullet,” and she said, “Here – hit this!” I was lucky enough (or unlucky enough – however you choose to look at it) to get the real McCoy fresh from the starting gate. No cornstarch, no baby laxative, no crushed B12 -- just pure, unadulterated, crystal methamphetamine! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t get hooked on something the first time you do it, because you most certainly can. At least I know I can. It was just what I was looking for.
I started out small, of course, just a little bump before work to get me through the night. Then it was an extra trip upstairs to my office for a quick little bump to get me through the “rest of the night.” I started out snorting a line or two a day in late 1994. I lost my job eight months later. I never got caught using on the job or anything like that, though I’m sure plenty of people were more than aware of what I was doing. When well-known dealers and numerous junkies visit you at work regularly, you can safely bet people suspect something. My new boss kept looking for ways to get rid of me until I finally told him to go to hell and he fired me. It was what he wanted all along, and I was tired of trying to walk on eggshells.
I got on the needle a month after I lost my job. The same best friend who gave me my first snort gave me my first shot. Not that I blame any of this on her. She had her own drug problem to worry about. She thought she was being helpful. There is a rather twisted logic among junkies. We know that we’re killing each other, and ourselves but we also know what it is like to suffer through needing that shot so badly! So we find any way we can to get each other through that hell – although we will always take care of ourselves first.
To avoid a lot of detail and to keep this as short as possible, I’ll simply say that when I got on dope in ’94, I had an excellent job, two houses, two cars, and a boat. At the time of this writing, I have one of the houses (the smallest one of course) that I keep rented out because I can’t afford to live in it. And I wouldn’t have it if my parents hadn’t helped me hang on to it to protect their own credit. See, like all my prior adventures in life, I went all out with my drug addiction. When I no longer had any money to pay for my dope, or any personal belongings to sell for a bag, I got to know some people who knew how to make it. I never learned how to cook it, myself. I would just spend half the day collecting all the poisons that went in it, then hope like hell they didn’t find a way to rip me off when they were done. Most of them eventually found their way to the penitentiary, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what has become of the rest of them.
I got pregnant in 1996. Now that was a real shocker, because I had had numerous miscarriages, and honestly did not believe I could ever have more children. Besides, I was 34 years old and looked like a walking dead person. There was no way my body was strong enough to carry a baby – So I never gave a second thought to continuing to shoot dope. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did, because no matter how many times I tried, I could NOT quit.
I remember sitting in the bathtub looking at my arms and wondering where I was going to hit in the next few years because my veins were getting scarred. I also remember sitting on the edge of the bed, belly “out to here” with the rig ready to go and the needle poised above my vein -- tears streaming down my face. I remember praying “God, please don’t let me shoot any dope today!” Then sitting on the edge of the bed within the same hour doing a shot. Most of all I remember praying: “God, please do what you want with me, I’ve ruined my life, but let this baby be okay. It isn’t his fault that I can’t quit.”
More than anything else, I remember the last shot I ever did. I had a real good idea that I was in labor, but I also knew that if I got to the hospital and they found dope in the baby or me, I was caught – and if I got caught, it would end. Once and for all, it could end! I knew I was taking a big risk on my baby possibly ending up in foster care. I had already pretty much turned my older son over to the care of my parents. I couldn’t stand the idea of having my beautiful little boy living in that insanity, but I’d also lost all sensation in my hands and was unable to work or to care for him from the third month of my pregnancy. I found out later that numbness of the hands is sometimes a symptom of methamphetamine toxicity.
It was August 15, 1997. I delivered my son at 6:30 that evening. Sometime during the next morning traces of meth were found in his blood. A hotline call was made to the county Family Services then forwarded to the local police department. My baby was taken into protective custody by the hospital until Social Services could get counselors and caseworkers lined up to meet with me. My boyfriend abandoned me at the hospital because as he put it: “I can’t deal with this!”
I was terrified of people in authority. I’d spent the last three years of my life developing an ever-deepening fear of police, especially ones who appeared to be driving plain cars or ones who looked like the omnipresent “FEDS!” So I was scared to death. I had to call my mother and tell her that I’d been on dope for three years. My mother knew nothing about drugs and was at a complete loss. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn. But I was lucky! There is no way I can ever stress enough how important it is when coming off any drug, but especially meth, to have a strong, stable, and supportive network of people to depend upon! My fear of people in authority gradually began to decrease when I realized that there really were people willing to help me. The only thing I had to do in return was WANT TO HELP MYSELF!
I was set up with a counseling group that worked together with Family Services to see that my baby stayed with me and didn’t wind up in foster care. I gave up my house because I couldn’t pay for it anyway, and moved two children and myself in with my parents (who were more than glad to take us). Not everyone has that option. So once gain, I was extremely lucky!
When the baby was almost three weeks old, I entered outpatient rehab in my hometown. The counselors there should all be commended for the work they do and the amount of sincere effort they put forth to help people. I completed the CSTAR Program on December 31, 1997, and I’ve not touched methamphetamine since -- not to say that I haven’t wanted to. Three years later, there are times when I want a shot so badly I feel as though I am literally going to crawl out of my skin. Maybe its because I’ve always liked the feeling of going fast, but all I know is that meth gets a hold of you and it does NOT let go. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it does! I don’t know how to live without some kind of extra “kick,” whether that is an extra cup of coffee in the morning or a sinus pill when I’m not really all that congested. I will have to watch everything I do and every “drug” I ingest for the rest of my life – because whether I ever do meth again, I’ll always be an addict. I know my weaknesses, and I just “don’t go there,” but it makes me angry! It makes me angry because I know that as long as those weaknesses are present, I’m not really in control of my own life. There are times I’d love to go downtown, drink a beer, and listen to a good band – but I have to be realistic enough to know that I can’t do that. Not yet anyway. Three years clean, and I know in my heart that if the circumstances were just right, I could end up right back where I started.
I started college in January 1998, something else I never thought I’d do, but I knew I had to do something with my life because I had two little guys counting on me. I chose to major in psychology and minor in criminal justice. I’ve made the Dean’s List and am involved with two National Honor Societies. Because of my age (39) I can’t say I know what I’ll do with the degree, but I’m sure that substance abuse treatment figures in somewhere.
Sometimes the guilt over all the horrible things I said and did to people when I was using overwhelms me – and it seems like I’ll be making amends for the rest of my life. But all in all, I’m not ashamed of anything that has happened to me. There is something in my body chemistry that causes me to crave a feeling that most other people don’t need. Every day that I live I have to manage that – but I try to be as open about these things as I can. I was lucky enough to have people to help me, so maybe what I have to say will help someone else, because isn’t that what its all about anyway?