What is Meth? An Overview of Meth Manufacturing, Use, and Treatment

Meth, technically known as methamphetamine, is defined as being a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that affects a person’s central nervous system, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This basic definition only begins to tell you the “story” behind meth, its impact on users, and its use more broadly in the United States and elsewhere around the globe. Through this article, you are presented with a multifaceted examination of the question “what is meth?”

The Prevalence of Meth Use

Meth use dropped a bit about five to six years ago. Since the dip, the use of meth in the United States has been at a fairly consistent rate, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. About 1.2 million people in the United States report using meth during the past year. Of that number, approximately 400,000 to 500,000 report using meth in the past month. Over 130,000 people report using meth for the first time each year.

Over 100,000 people are taken to emergency departments each year as the result of adverse reactions to the use of meth. This represents the fourth most common drug that brings people to U.S. emergency rooms each year.

How is Meth Taken?

Meth is taken in a number of different ways:

  • Smoking
  • Injection
  • Snorting
  • Swallowing

Smoking and injection result in the quickest “rush.” Depending on the strength of meth used, a person can be under the influence of meth for two to eight hours. This assumes that an individual will not keep ingesting or shooting up with meth as a high starts to dissipate. The reality is that in most cases a person who uses meth binges on the drug and will not stop using it until he or she is out of it.

Classification of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug by the United States government. Unlike a Schedule I substance which is always illegal according to federal law, there can be legal uses for methamphetamine in the United States. With that noted, methamphetamine is rarely prescribed in the United States. When it is prescribed, it has been used to treat:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Weight loss treatment
  • Narcolepsy

When utilized for these bona fide treatment protocols (and that rarely happens in this day and age), the dosage is far, far lower than that associated with the abuse of meth.

History of Meth

Beginning in the 1930s and heading forward into the 1960s, methamphetamine was regular used in products designed to combat:

  • Obesity
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Colds

Meth was available in prescriptions as well as in over-the-counter products as well. It was also during this time period that abuse of lawfully obtained products containing methamphetamine started to take hold.

How Meth is Made

The exact recipe for making meth is not provided here. The process of making meth itself is a highly dangerous proposition and we’ve no interest whatsoever in contributing in any way to that process.

A base ingredient in meth is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. These are ingredients found in over-the-counter cold medications. (As a result of the use of cold medications in the production of meth, these products oftentimes are not directly available on store counters. They must be requested through the pharmacy department. In addition, many stores place limits on the amount of cold medications containing these chemicals that can be purchased at any one time.)

The cold medication tablets are mixed with a solvent and the solution is then filtered. This process removes the inert materials from the cold tablets.

At this juncture, the pure ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is blended with red phosphorus and Hydroiodic acid. The red phosphorus is filtered out, any remaining acid is neutralized using a solution containing lye.

The liquid meth is then drained out. Hydrogen chloride gas is bubbled through the extracted liquid meth. This creates what is known as a crystalline hydrochloride salt. This substance is filtered, meth being what is left behind on the filter. The meth is then mixed with some type of inert filler to expand the amount available for sale or use.

It is important to note that the process of making meth is highly dangerous. Because of the nature of materials used, meth lab explosions are relatively common. In addition, because of the dangerous substances used to make meth, the location of a meth lab becomes highly contaminated. A person entering the location of a former meth lab puts his or her health at risk unless the space has been appropriately and thoroughly cleaned and remediated.

The Physical, Mental, and Emotional Impact of Meth

Even the short term use of meth can result in serious physical, mental, and emotional problems and issues. Meth use has a myriad of negative consequences. Chief among them is addiction. As noted at the start of this article, meth is a highly addictive drug. With meth, addiction is both physical and psychological. Researchers report that the use of meth changes the structure of a person’s brain.

More prolonged use of meth results in a person’s physical and mental deterioration. On the physical side, this can include extreme weight loss and, if meth is smoked, significant destruction of a person’s teeth (rather frequently referred to as “meth mouth”).

On the mental health side of the equation, a person can end up suffering from depression and anxiety issues but also psychosis. Indeed, the psychotic features of prolonged meth use can include:

  • Paranoia
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Delusions

Long-term meth use can also negatively can impact the functionality of a user’s brain. These impairments can include:

  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Reduced motor speed
  • Impaired verbal learning and skills
  • Cognitive issues
  • Memory issues

In addition, a person who uses meth over a longer period of time will face emotional issues as well, including broad mood swings.

Treatment for Meth Abuse and Addiction

A considerable number of people who use meth end up abusing the drub and then end up addicted to it. Thus, professional assistance is the recommended course of treatment for a person who abuses or is addicted to meth.

Treatment for meth abuse or addiction typically commences with medically supervised detox. The detox process from meth can prove harrowing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. In many cases, in-patient treatment is recommended as the proper course to address meth abuse and addiction.