What is the History of Meth?

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Methamphetamines have been around for more than 100 years, but their usage and availability surged in the 2000s, causing an increase in addiction cases, health-related problems, and crime.

Methamphetamine is highly addictive and has the potential to cause serious dependence. Users can quickly become addicted due to its powerful stimulant effects that can provide an intense sense of euphoria. Withdrawal from methamphetamines can be difficult and fraught with various symptoms, including depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, increased appetite, and cravings.

If you or someone close to you is struggling with a dependence on meth or any other substance, Guardian Recovery can help. We will work with you to develop an individualized and effective program to help you recover from addiction and get you on the road to long-term recovery. We believe in the benefits of a full curriculum of clinical care, beginning with medical detoxification, transitioning into a higher level of treatment, and concluding with personalized aftercare planning. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options in your area.

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Who Invented Crystal Meth?

There are conflicting accounts of where and who first synthesized methamphetamine, with some sources crediting a Japanese chemist and others a Romanian chemist working in Germany. All reports agree that it was first synthesized around 1897, when the chemist isolated ephedrine from the herbal stimulant, ma huang, and created a crystalline form of methamphetamines.

Methamphetamine was challenging to make until 1919 when another chemist streamlined the process. He used phosphorus and iodine to reduce the ephedrine into a crystallized form, creating the world’s first crystal meth.

Known for its ability to increase alertness, elevate mood, and increase motivation, it rapidly gained popularity and sparked further scientific investigation during the 20th century.

Ephedra & Its Role in Methamphetamine Development

Ephedra, also known as ma huang, is a powerful stimulant derived from the Chinese herb ephedra sinica. It contains several active ingredients, the most potent of which is ephedrine.

In the early 20th century, ephedrine was first synthesized into a potent psychoactive stimulant known now as methamphetamine. This development was primarily fueled by the desire for a stronger and more potent stimulant amidst the rising popularity and demand for amphetamines. Once chemists and medical researchers discovered they could modify the ephedra alkaloids to produce a more potent drug, the creation of methamphetamine became possible. Thus, ephedra acted as a crucial ingredient, setting the stage for an epidemic that has deeply affected people worldwide.

What Were Methamphetamines Historically Used for?

Methamphetamine has many medicinal applications and has been commonly used to treat asthma and obesity in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It has also been prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a sense of well-being or euphoria. However, taken at comparable doses, much more methamphetamine gets into the brain than amphetamine, 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 a high potential for widespread misuse.

Methamphetamine During World War II

During World War II, methamphetamines played a crucial role in the war efforts of many nations. These powerful stimulants were employed to enhance soldiers’ physical and mental capabilities, allowing them to endure prolonged periods of combat with little need for rest. The German military, in particular, capitalized on the potential of methamphetamines and distributed them under the name “Pervitin” to sustain their soldiers’ energy and maintain a relentless fighting force.

The Japanese and American militaries also experimented with methamphetamine use, aiming to gain an advantage in the grueling battles that defined the era. As a result, meth influenced the course of the war and left a lasting impact on global drug culture and the perception of stimulant medications.

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The Rise of Methamphetamine Use in the Late 1900s

The late 1900s experienced a concerning and alarming surge in the use and production of methamphetamines. This rapid increase can be attributed to various factors, including the ease of production, accessibility of precursor chemicals, and a growing disenchantment among rural communities that fueled the demand.

The substance can be manufactured in simple “labs” from inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. Pseudoephedrine, a common element in cold medicines, is combined with other chemicals and a solvent like gasoline and heated to crystallize.

As law enforcement agencies and governments grappled with the implications of this new epidemic, they were forced to adopt innovative strategies to combat the issue. New policies limited the number of component materials the public could purchase daily and required importers of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine powder to maintain purchase and sales records.

Mexican drug cartels made an end run around these regulations by purchasing the active ingredients from the same factories in Germany, the Czech Republic, China, and India that pharmaceutical companies used. This move doubled the purity of the meth they manufactured and sold across the border in the U.S.

The Methamphetamine Epidemic in the 2000s

The meth epidemic of the 2000s marked a dark and disturbing period in our society’s history, with far-reaching consequences for millions of individuals and communities. Sparked by the easy accessibility of precursor chemicals and the allure of lucrative profits, clandestine methamphetamine production surged.

In 2006, the U.N. World Drug Report named meth the most abused hard drug on earth. The world’s meth addicts numbered almost 26 million, which equaled the combined number of cocaine and heroin users. In the U.S., approximately 1.4 million people were using meth, though the highest concentration of those addicted to the drug was in East and Southeast Asia.

The government of Mexico, recognizing the country’s role in the epidemic, banned imports of pseudoephedrine. Several U.S. states made pseudoephedrine accessible by prescription only, but lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry thwarted their efforts.

Methamphetamine as a Public Health Crisis

Methamphetamine remains a significant public health concern, and its impact is felt across all levels of society. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that in 2021 about 2.5 million people aged 12 and older reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months. About 1.6 million had a meth use disorder in the same period.

This potent substance has been linked to an increase in violent crime, high rates of addiction, and the breakdown of communities afflicted by its destructive nature. To address this issue, governments and law enforcement agencies have adopted a range of approaches, from implementing stringent regulations on precursor chemicals to increasing public education about the dangers of methamphetamine use.

Different Forms & Variants of Methamphetamines Available Today

There are three primary forms—crystal, powder, and rock—with distinct attributes that influence their potency, appearance, and methods of consumption. Crystal meth, known for its translucent, glass-like appearance, is typically smoked or injected due to its purer and more potent nature. Meth powder has a crystalline texture and is commonly snorted or ingested, although its effects tend to be milder in comparison. Rock is large chunks of the drug, usually yellow in color, that are ingested orally.

The Legal Response to Methamphetamine

Despite numerous attempts to curb the proliferation of methamphetamine, it remains one of the most widely available and abused drugs in the world. Governments have implemented various measures to tackle this issue, such as imposing strict regulations on precursor chemicals and investing in public health initiatives.

Some countries have established specialized drug courts that offer alternative sentencing options to individuals convicted of methamphetamine-related offenses. These courts provide judicial supervision, treatment and rehabilitation services, assistance with job placement, and other life skills training to ensure that offenders are fully integrated into society.

The Effects of Methamphetamine on Society

Methamphetamine use has significant implications for individuals and communities alike. Regular use of the drug can lead to severe physical, psychological, economic, and social consequences that can linger long after its effects have worn off. On an individual level, meth use can cause extreme weight loss, decreased cognitive functioning, heart problems, anxiety, dental issues, and psychosis. The increased aggression associated with meth abuse can lead to violent behavior and increased crime risk.

At a community level, meth use can decrease productivity, strain relationships, cause poverty and homelessness, and spread infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Current Trends in Illicit Use

According to the National Institute of Health, overdose deaths due to stimulants other than cocaine have risen dramatically over the past few years, with the primary source being methamphetamine use. However, the number of people using meth did not increase at the same rate, suggesting that a higher percentage of people overdosed.

Researchers also found that the population of meth users is becoming more diverse, expanding from the middle-aged white population to the Black community in a larger proportion than other racial groups. Socioeconomic factors include low household income, housing instability, and involvement with the criminal justice system. People with hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and depression are also at increased risk for misuse.

The illicit methamphetamine market constantly evolves, with new trends emerging almost yearly. One of the most noteworthy trends in recent years has been the emergence of designer drugs such as bath salts and flakka – both stimulants similar to meth but featuring modified chemical structures. The increased availability of tablets and capsules containing crystalline forms of the drug has seen a surge in popularity, as they are easier to ingest, relatively cheap, and offer long-lasting effects.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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