BP issue 11. Written by M.M (additional text and research E O’Mara)
Recently making a re-appearance in the UK, methamphetamine is starting to make itself known. BP investigates the drug – its effects – and the hype that surrounds its use.
If you were a heroin addict in London during 1967/68 it was likely you were either a doctor or someone in the medical profession with easy access to prescription drugs. Or, you were one of the small clique of several hundred addicts who frequented the West End, many being prescribed ‘jacks’ (diamorphine in soluble pill form), cocaine and a plethora of drugs we might only dream about today (e.g Mandrax, Drinamyl, Seconal, Dexedrine etc). These drugs were prescribed to users by a handful of well meaning, sympathetic -although some might say misguided, doctors, many of whom were based in the West End. One such doctor, now mythologized in British drug culture was Dr. John Petro. Dr Petro was the first G.P to switch his clients from cocaine to Methedrine, (the brand name for methamphetamine) as a result of a clinical preference for the latter. His colleague, Dr Christopher Swann, also switched his cocaine using patients to Methedrine, but for very different reasons. The rules governing the dispensing of cocaine to addicts were, during the late 1960’s, being tightened and this was to affect the way other doctors would prescribe at the time.
There is little doubt that some of those who were switched to Methedrine were drastically over prescribed with some patients receiving as many as 20 to 50, 25mg ampoules per day (1/2g -1 gram). It’s not hard to foresee that the massive over prescribing of amphetamines would cause problems within the drug using community and in retrospect, one can only stagger back in disbelief at the naivete or inexperience of the few doctors involved in this practice. One must remember however, that the treatment of ‘addicts’ was still in its infancy and a good deal less was known about methamphetamine, which of course was liberally used by medical students under the recommendation of doctors – as they crammed for exams while working extremely long hours.
The ramifications of the sudden introduction of Methedrine ampoules were twofold. One consequence of the availability of injectable speed was that it caused a significant number of current ‘pill taking’ amphetamine users to begin injecting Methedrine ampoules, the injecting of which didn’t have the same connotations as injecting heroin. Once familiar with a needle and the injecting process, barriers to trying other drugs IV were effectively overcome, making methedrine a more realistic ‘gateway’ drug than the contentions around cannabis. While many of these IV speed users soon came to rely on barbiturates in order to come down after a binge on Methedrine, it was soon discovered that barbs could also be injected although this was a far more dangerous practice and overdose became endemic amongst the drug using population of the time, particularly in the West End. Many users were known on a first name basis by the doctors in the A&E department at Charing Cross hospital, sometimes presenting as many as 2 to 3 times a day. Barbiturates on the whole, were not made for injection and caused horrific abscesses known amongst users as ‘barb burns’.
In Soho and the West End a new ‘type of addict’ started to emerge who had never taken heroin but were experiencing very real problems with Methedrine and barbiturate dependence. The physical health of London’s users deteriorated rapidly coinciding with the increase of methamphetamine and barbiturate prescribing and the subsequent leakage onto the black market. These new drug users were more visible and a good deal harder to treat than their heroin/cocaine predecessors. Methedrine when taken in large doses and administered frequently, does little to improve the mental health of users and when combined with the disinhibiting effects of barbs, many of these patients became unruly and occasionally violent, suffering from varying degrees of drug induced psychosis. In 1968 pharmacists themselves voluntarily agreed to desist in the practice of dispensing Methedrine ampoules.
That was then, the first time that methamphetamine had darkened the doorstep of our green and pleasant land to any significant degree. It seems likely however, that it won’t be the last as anyone with their ear to the ground will no doubt be aware. Methamphetamine has reemerged, but this time entirely through the black market…In simple terms, methamphetamine is the granddaddy of the amphetamine family, being twice as strong as dextroamphetamine (e.g dexedrine), and four times the strength of ordinary amphetamine i.e Benzedrine.
And we use it like…
In today’s market, methamphetamine is currently available as a white or pinkish white powder. It’s also seen as pills, usually pink or as a pink or clear crystalline base or salt form (ice) which, as a purer form, is commonly smoked. This is best and most efficiently achieved by placing the crystals in a glass pipe or on tin foil and applying the heat, not on top of the crystal as you would with crack, but underneath it; heating it from underneath the foil (like ‘chasing the dragon’) or through the glass bowl, thus heating it at a lower temperature. This also means you’re inhaling vapours, not smoke although some users may smoke it like crack. Certainly, as in the US, it’s by no means unheard of to mix the two, crack and meth, together. But it can be swallowed, snorted, dissolved in water and injected, or inserted anally (with or without dissolution in water).
However, unlike crack which will give you an instantaneous but short acting high, meth will give you an instantaneous but long lasting high, as much as 4-14 hours from a few doses, depending on how you ingest it. This can mean that your desire to repeat the dose occurs just when your body needs to sleep and eat. Naturally this can lead to days awake, often with little food as methamphetamine is a powerful appetite suppressant, leaving users physically run down and mentally strung out. It’s essential you try and eat well before any drug use, particularly when you know you mightn’t be hungry for a while.
How does it work in the brain?
Street meth stimulates the brain’s reward centre, the hypothalamus, which chemically regulates emotions and controls feelings, mood, energy levels and creative activity. This triggers the release of high levels of the brain’s feel-good chemical, dopamine – which mediates the transfer of signals associated with positive emotions between the left prefrontal area and the emotional centres in the limbic area of the brain – and releases neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine) into the bloodstream. Meth blocks the re-uptake of neurotransmitters but unlike cocaine and other stimulants, it blocks the enzymes that help to break down invasive drugs, so the chemicals released from only one hit in a first-time user float freely and remain active for as many as 10 to 12 hours before wearing off, compared with about 45 minutes for cocaine.
Cooking it up…
It is true to state that there has been many, very unpleasant accidents, sometimes fatal, caused by inexperienced/ / irresponsible meth cooks. Primarily produced for the black market, ‘meth labs’ can be put together in a couple of hours in a caravan or a garage. Some of the more common ingredients involved in making methamphetamine include pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, iodine crystals and red phosphorus. This list is by no means exhaustive as methamphetamine can be produced without using any of the above.
When things go arse up…
Chronic or dependent use of methamphetamine is likely to give rise to a number of health problems, both psychological and physical. Intense anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, headaches, sweating, teeth grinding and irritability are common as are the developments of strange behaviour patterns including the phenomena known as ‘PUNDING’. This basically means the compulsive repetition of certain tasks such as the disassembling and reassembling of objects (known in the States as ‘tweaking’), such as cars, radios or other electrical equipment, compulsive collecting, cleaning, hoarding etc.
Similarly obsessive speed habits are skin picking (or squeezing of spots), not dissimilar to that which occurs in the crack and coke user. ‘Compulsive Foraging Disorder’ often seen in heavy cocaine/crack users, – that relentless hunt for specs of imagined crack in the carpet, ashtrays etc will be covered along with skin picking issues, next issue).
It is worth noting that anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines have been helpful here and in cases of meth psychosis, short term neuroleptics have also been proving successful. Perhaps one of the more effective treatments for methamphetamine (and other stimulant) addiction is cognitive behavioural interventions (such as CBT; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), currently gaining popularity in the UK. These approaches are designed to help modify your thinking, experiences, and behaviours and to increase skills in coping with various life stressors.
As the global popularity of methamphetamine goes from strength to strength it looks certain that the attendant problems to both health and society will one day hit our shores on a larger scale than it has at present. Expect to see more of this. Although it has the potential for serious addiction, there are things you can do to look after yourself – with a drug that encourages the user to eat AND sleep less, it’s going to be important that you go the extra mile to look after yourself and pass on safer using info whenever you get the chance.
written by M.M and additional text and research by E. O’Mara for BP issue 11
Reducing Methamphetamine & Amphetamine Harms
+ Do not take Methamphetamine if you are currently taking an MAOI, most commonly found in some prescription anti-depressants (check with your GP) & don’t mix with Viagra.
+ Individuals with heart disease, hypertension, epilepsy, gastric ulcers, with persisting mental illness, impaired immunity, or who are pregnant/breastfeeding should avoid meth. (see links below for more info)
+ Get some L-tyrosine/B6 pills. Take one or two of the pills the morning, afternoon and evening the day after you have been speeding for a few days, each time with a glass of orange/lemon juice, works wonders!
+ Drink orange or lemon juice (or anything that contains a lot of vitamin C)
+ Use dental floss before using speed. And brush your teeth before going to bed. Meth appears to do some real damage to teeth, the reasons why this happens needs more research. So take extra care with them.
+ Try to drink some water once or twice every hour. Speed causes the kidneys to produce less urine leading to toxic wastes getting recycled back into the bloodstream, making you feel like shit.
+ Eat, eat, eat! Make sure you get in some good food before using speed / meth coz you sure won’t feel like eating afterwards.
Three good links for more info: