Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant. The name is derived from the substance´s chemical name: N-methylamphetamine.
Methamphetamine is chiefly used as an illegal recreational drug, but it is also legally used in some countries to treat certain medical conditions, including ADHD and obesity.
Globally, the popularity and availability of methamphetamine (and the more powerful dextro-methamphetiamine) vary a lot from one location to another. The highest prevalence of illegal methamphetamine use is found in the United States, and in certain parts of Asia and Oceania.
Methamphetamine exists in as two enantiomers: levo-methamphetamine and dextro-methamphetamine. The racemic free base of methamphetamine consists of equal amounts of the two enantiomers in their pure amine form.
Dextro-methamphetamine is a stronger central nervous system stimulant than levo-methamphetamine, and many users prefer it over using a combination of both enantiomers.
In some countries, including the United States, levo-methamphetamine is available as a medicine to treat nasal congestion and can be purchased without a prescription.
Routes of administration
In medical settings, methamphetamine is typically administered orally (ingestion).
A wider range of routes has been observed when methamphetamine is used illegally for recreational purposes. The oral route is still common, but methamphetamine is also consumed through vapour inhalation, insufflation, insertion into the rectum or vagina, and injection (subcutaneous, intravenous or intramuscular).
Desired effects and undesired effects
Here are some of the most desired effects, as described by recreational users of methamphetamine:
- Mood elevation
- Increased alertness and energy
- Increased ability to concentrate
- Increased sexual desire
Methamphetamine is also known to reduce appetite, which can be a desirable or undesirable effect.
Methamphetamine use can cause serious side effects, such as:
- Brain bleeding
- Breakdown of skeletal muscle
- Serious and unpredictable mood swings
- Violent behaviour
A high dose and/or chronic use will increase the risk of experiencing serious side effects.
At high doses, methamphetamine is neurotoxic to the dopaminergic neurons found in the human midbrain. Compared to amphetamine, methamphetamine has a higher affinity for serotonergic neurons and this makes the toxicity stronger.
Because of its neurotoxicity, methamphetamine can change how the brain is structured and functions, e.g. by reducing the amount of grey matter in several brain regions.
Methamphetamine has a high addiction liability and high dependence liability. This means that there is a high likelihood of compulsive drug use and a high likelihood of experiencing withdrawal symptoms if usage is stopped.
In addition to acute withdrawal symptoms, withdrawal after heavy use can also cause post-acute-withdrawal syndrome where symptoms persist for months beyond the typical acute withdrawal period.
Methamphetamine belongs to the substituted phenethylamine class and to the substituted amphetamine class.
Methamphetamine is closely related to other dimethylphenethylamines, as they share the same chemical formula: C10H15N1. The methamphetamine is a positional isomer of these other compounds.
- Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887, by the Romanian chemist Lazăr Edeleanu who worked for the German pharmaceutical company Merck.
- Methamphetamine was first synthesized in 1893, by the Japanese chemist Nagai Nagayoshi who synthesized it from ephedrine.
Methamphetamine hydrochloride (methamphetamine in crystal form) was first synthesized in 1919 by the Japanese pharmacologist Akira Ogata. He synthesized it via reduction of ephedrine from an Asian plant using red phosphorus and iodine, and the result was the first amphetamine that could be dissolved in water.
Ogata´s synthesis of methamphetamine from ephedrine was much easier than earlier methods, and it is still in use today – especially among illegal producers of methamphetamine.
Ogata released his invention to a British-based pharmaceutical company who created a pill marketed for various health issues, including nasal congestion, depression and asthma.
Pervitin – a methamphetamine tablet – was launched by the German pharmaceutical company Temmler in 1934. Eventually, it got the nickname Herman-Göring-Pillen.
Pervitin was widely used in all branches of the Wehrmacht armed forces, as it increased alertness and made the user more resilient to fatigue. By 1940, the harmful side effects had become so noticeable that the German armed forces cut back on the use of Pervitin, and from 1941 a prescription was required.
In Japan, the most famous methamphetamine pill was Philopon, which was marketed as a pill capable of boosting production in the workforce. The name actually means ”love of work”.
Methamphetamine pills have been sold under several different brand names in the United States, of which one of the first and most famous ones was the Obetrol, patented by Obetrol Pharmaceuticals in the 1950s and marketed as a way to lose weight. Obetrol was a very popular diet pill in the United States, until methamphetamine became a schedule II controlled substance in the early 1970s.