Meth, or methamphetamine (N-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine), is a very potent central nervous system stimulant substance that was originally developed in the 1800s. The medicinal uses of the drug were related to its very strong stimulant effects, but with the advent of the Controlled Substances Act passed in 1970, its medicinal use has been significantly reduced and the drug is now better recognized as a significant drug of abuse.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still recognizes that methamphetamine has medicinal value, although it is an extremely dangerous drug of abuse. It is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, indicating that methamphetamine has medical utility, but also has a significant potential for abuse and is very likely to produce physical dependence in people who use it over time. Many people are more familiar with the street names of the drug such as crystal meth, meth, and glass.
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What Is In Meth?
Although methamphetamine is a legitimate medicinal product and manufactured professionally, most people are more familiar with the notion that the drug is manufactured by private individuals to be abused. The DEA recognizes that methamphetamine abuse has declined, but the drug remains a significant concern, and there are still regular news reports of meth labs being discovered by authorities.
Although private manufacture of the drug is illegal, there are numerous recipes for the drug available to nearly anyone. One can do an Internet search and find several potential methods of producing the drug. Methamphetamine is so easy to produce that there have been regulations on the purchase of some over-the-counter ingredients, particularly over-the-counter medicines, that are crucial to the production of the drug. The primary meth ingredients, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, come from over-the-counter medications like cold medications and weight loss products.
Additional meth ingredients include:
- Acetone, from paint thinner or nail polish remover
- Anhydrous ammonia, found in various household cleaners
- Sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid, which is typically extracted from over-the-counter drain cleaners
- Toluene from brake fluid
- Phosphorous, extracted from flares, matches, and other substances
- Ether or chloroform
- Freon from air-conditioning units
- Energy drink instead of using over-the-counter medications
- Benzene and gasoline
- Lithium, which is removed from car batteries
The drug is most often abused by heating it and smoking the vapors, or by grinding it up and snorting it or mixing it with water and injecting it. Meth labs can produce very large amounts of the drug if the individuals making the drug can get enough of the needed meth ingredients.
How is Meth Made?
It is typically a four-step process to make the drug:
- Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is combined with ammonia and lithium or iodine and phosphorus.
- Mixed in with water.
- A solvent like gasoline is added, and the person extracts the methamphetamine.
- The mixture is heated by using the acid or some other substance (e.g., gasoline) to crystallize the product.
The heating process is quite dangerous because many of the substances use are flammable or corrosive. The methamphetamine is separated from the waste, and the process results in significant waste materials, particularly with the use of phosphorus. These waste materials are also highly unstable and combustible.
Because methamphetamine production by private individuals is not regulated or supervised, there can be numerous substitutes for some of the core substances. Some of these are mentioned above, such as alcohol, energy drinks, etc. In addition, other stimulants may be involved in the production of drugs sold as methamphetamine, such as caffeine or even cocaine.
There is no quality control process associated with the private production of methamphetamine, and any number of cutting agents could conceivably be added to the process to dilute the drug.
Because the substance is also manufactured with the use of phosphorus and other potentially toxic materials like acid, there are many detrimental effects associated with the use of methamphetamine aside from the central nervous system effects the drug produces. The substance is quite corrosive, and individuals experience major issues with their skin and dentition after using the drug for even a short period of time. Inhaling privately made methamphetamine can cause significant lung damage and respiratory issues.
The potent central nervous system effects of methamphetamine can also produce significant neurological issues as well as cardiovascular issues and potential liver and kidney damage.
Cutting Meth and ‘Instant Meth’
The standard process for producing methamphetamine requires space in order to develop a “meth lab.” Meth labs produce quite a bit of waste products and involve the use of numerous appliances, such as pots and pans for heating, stoves or burners, hoses for ventilation, curtains or other blockages so individuals from the outside cannot see what is going on inside, etc. This process can be quite expensive and difficult to maintain. In addition, these sophisticated laboratories can often be spotted quite easily by legal authorities who are on the lookout for them and present a serious danger for the individuals who work in them due to the highly unstable process of making methamphetamine and the combustible materials and wastes that are used in result from the process. Most readers are aware of numerous instances where “meth labs” have exploded.
Some users and manufacturers have used a “shake and bake” method to make meth where the ingredients are combined in a plastic or glass container and then shaken and heated. The meth is then extracted. This “instant meth” approach can also be dangerous as the substance in the containers are very volatile and can explode, particularly when being removed from the container.
Although a great deal of methamphetamine sold on the street is most likely not significantly diluted or cut like other street drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, there are products that can be added to any drug to increase the volume of the drug and reduce the actual psychoactive substance.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM is a powder that is used for strengthening cartilage in people or animals, and it is virtually undetectable in meth. Amphetamines or other stimulants may be used as cutting agents. In some forms of methamphetamine where pseudoephedrine is used and the red dye in the tablets has not been washed away, the meth may appear reddish or brown. When phosphorus is used in the process and not fully washed out (a very common result of making meth), the meth may have a purplish look to it. Phosphorous is extremely toxic. Sulfur that comes from ephedrine sulfate and has not been removed may make the meth orange in color. Copper salts in the mixture may result in a greenish color.
As mentioned above, the process of making meth is not regulated, and there are numerous adulterants in meth and potential cutting agents that can be toxic. Problems with skin abscesses, “meth mouth” (rotting and deteriorating teeth), weight loss, and internal organ damage are all the result of methamphetamine being taken in high doses and the impurities associated with the process of producing meth.
Physical deterioration can be very rapid in chronic users. The damage associated with chronic abuse of methamphetamine may not be fully reversible. Individuals may suffer significant organ damage and even brain damage as a result of chronic methamphetamine abuse.