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23 Feb The History of Methamphetamine in the U.S.

Many of the drugs that we use today in modern medicine, as well as on the street, are variations of drugs that various cultures have been using for thousands of years. Opioids like heroin have been in use since about 3400 BC, and South American Natives had been using coca (used in cocaine) for religious ceremonies for thousands of years before the Spanish invaded in the 1500s.

Methamphetamine is unique because it was only developed in 1919, and its predecessor, amphetamine, was developed in 1887. Methamphetamine is also unique because it’s completely synthetic and not based on any natural source like so many other drugs are. The brief history of amphetamine is all wrapped up in incredible medical advancements, and debilitating addiction, right from the start.

War-Time Instant Courage

When methamphetamine was first developed in Japan, it was used to increase awareness and boost energy. It soon made its way to the U.S., and by the 1930s it was being prescribed by doctors to treat disorders like asthma and narcolepsy. The surge of energy provided by the drug turned out to be very handy to pilots on both sides of the fight, and during WWII, it was a must-have for bombers on long flights. The problem was that it made the pilots uncontrollably irritable and violent, and its official use was soon discontinued for this purpose by the U.S. military.

The Japanese continued to stockpile methamphetamine though, and their infamous Kamikaze pilots would use it before heading into suicide missions. The excess meth was released to the Japanese public following WWII leading to the first widespread meth epidemic in Japan in the 1940s and 50s. The epidemic soon spread to the West Coast of the U.S., and began working its way out from there.

Prescription Grade Solutions

Methamphetamine has a reputation for being a dangerous drug for a reason, but it has also served a lot of valuable medical purposes. What started out as a cure for narcolepsy was soon discovered to be a powerful bronchodilator that can treat severe asthma attacks and bronchitis. ADHD and morbid obesity are also treated with methamphetamine. The medical uses of methamphetamine keep it on the forefront of modern medicine, even as it moves up the ranks of the most dangerous street drugs.

Mom ‘n’ Pop Style Addiction

Methamphetamine has been listed as a controlled substance by the FDA since the 1970s, but that hasn’t slowed down its production. Meth can be manufactured using just a few commonly found substances, making it an easy fix for the chemistry savvy user. Huge meth labs were set up in Southern California during the 1980s, but the pros didn’t maintain the only corner on the market.

Rural Midwesterners soon found out that they were perfectly set up to obtain ingredients and go unnoticed during production, and so during the 1990s, bathroom sink style do-it-yourself labs were beginning to create a product that was 4 to 6 times stronger than the prescription grade. The availability of the drug has fueled its raging epidemic of misuse. It was one of the most commonly abused drugs as we rang in the 21st century, and it continues to be today.

Espra Andrus, LCSW is a clinical therapist who specializes in working with individuals who suffer with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders, as well as individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder, and mood and emotion dysregulation disorders. Espra began practicing as a therapist in 1990 and has specialized in treating eating disorders since 1998. She worked at Center for Change, a premier eating disorder treatment program in Utah, for eight years. Espra is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

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