Because methamphetamine began to garner international headlines during the past 30 years and because the drug was the focus of one of the more popular television programs in the past 20 years, many people conclude that meth is a drug of fairly new origin. In fact, amphetamine and methamphetamine are drugs that have a long history. Having a basic understanding of the essential history of amphetamine and methamphetamine helps put the broad use of these drugs into a useful historical perspective.

Creation of Amphetamine and Methamphetamine

Scientists first created amphetamine in Germany in 1887. A bit over 30 years later, in 1919, methamphetamine was created in Japan. Methamphetamine was more potent and easier to use. Methamphetamine was soluble in water and was an ideal candidate for being used as an injectable drug. 

Shortly after its initial creation, methamphetamine was used for the treatment of three medical or health conditions:

  • Narcolepsy
  • Asthma
  • Weight loss

Expanded Use of Methamphetamine: The Dawn of World War II

During World War II, methamphetamine went into wide use. Examples of how methamphetamine was used during the war include:

  • Japanese Kamikaze pilots were provided with methamphetamine before they took off on their suicide missions.
  • German front-line troops were provided a combination of methamphetamine and cocaine to keep them alert on the field of battle.
  • Some Allied troops use methamphetamine for the same reason, although it was not nearly as widely used as it was by the Axis countries (Japan, Germany, and to a lesser degree, Italy).
  • Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was injected with a cocktail of various drugs on a daily basis that evidently included methamphetamine as well as barbiturates and opioids (some maintain that the significant drug use contributed to Hitler’s instability). 

Post-World War II Use of Methamphetamine: The Beat Generation

During the 1950s, methamphetamine use became associated with the Beat Generation. People associated with the Beat Generation were said to use methamphetamine recreationally. Methamphetamine was readily, legally available during this time period. Luminaries of the Beat Generation like author Jack Kerouac and poet W.H. Auden were said to use methamphetamine and other stimulants. 

In addition to use recreationally among the Beat Generation community, methamphetamine was used to treat depression and as a diet aid. Methamphetamine became widely used among college students, athletes, and truck drivers as a perceived means of enhancing their stamina and alertness.

During this area, addiction to methamphetamine became more commonplace. By 1959, methamphetamine was on the radar of regulatory authorities and others. 

Ongoing Use of Amphetamine

Following the conclusion of World War II up until today, there have remained some limited medical uses for amphetamine. These include the treatment of:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD
  • Depression
  • Narcolepsy
  • Obesity

The drug is not widely prescribed because the list of side effects is long, including some serious ones. These include:

  • Blood pressure issues
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Reduced blood flow to extremities
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Teeth grinding
  • Increased likelihood for seizures
  • Tics
  • Breathing issues
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive behaviors

Methamphetamine Use, Abuse, and Addiction in the 1960s

A major change in regard to the use of methamphetamine occurred in the early 1960s. It was at this point in time that injectable methamphetamine became far more widely available. This resulted in a significant increase in the rate of abuse of and addiction to methamphetamine. 

Methamphetamine Use, Abuse, and Addiction in the 1970s

By the 1970s, the United States government made methamphetamine illegal for use except for some very limited medical purposes. These limited purposes included the treatment of narcolepsy. 

During the 1970s, the illicit use of methamphetamine continued. Illegal methamphetamine largely was produced and distributed by motorcycle gangs in the United States. In addition, the use of methamphetamine was concentrated in rural communities. A notable percentage of users were people who could not afford or gain easy access to the more expensive cocaine.

Methamphetamine Use, Abuse, and Addiction in the 1980s and Beyond

The use, abuse, and addiction to meth expanded geographically and otherwise beginning in the 1980s and carrying forward through the years. Meth production and distribution were no longer under the control of U.S. motorcycle gangs.

During this period, the rise of methamphetamine labs occurred in many places across the country. In today’s world, meth is not only manufactured in makeshift labs across the country but is also “imported” from other countries that have less restrictive drug control laws on their books.

Dangers of Methamphetamine Contamination

Methamphetamine labs present significant health risks to innocent third parties. In addition, locations where people smoke methamphetamine – one of the most commonplace ways of using the drug illegally – can also end up contaminated to an extent that health hazards exist to innocent third parties. If a property may have been contaminated by methamphetamine in some way, testing needs to be undertaken to ascertain the presence of methamphetamine contamination. If a property is contaminated, professional methamphetamine decontamination is necessary.