The History of Methamphetamine
First synthesized by a Japanese chemist in 1893, methamphetamine was first sold as a medication for asthma and nasal congestion. This inhaler medication was a non-prescription drug and soared in popularity for its euphoric, energizing effects. And it was because of these effects that pharmaceutical companies soon developed the drug in pill form to treat narcolepsy. Japanese soldiers riding fighter planes were given exceedingly high doses of Pervitin – which has since been dubbed Pilot’s Salt – to provide them with the will to take on suicide missions. On the other hand, German soldiers were given a combination of meth and cocaine to help them work the frontlines of the battle.
Later in the 1950s, the inhaler form of meth started to become more and more popular. Called Benzedrine, this medication defined the beatnik culture. Earning its street name, ‘Bennies,’ this drug was used by many prominent writers of the time, including Jack Kerouac. But soon, the FDA would put a lid on amphetamine access by listing Bennies as a prescription medication. However, the rising addiction among many users pushed people to find ways to synthesize their meth. This made the FDA limit the access of ephedrine – a precursor in the synthesis of crystal meth. Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine could also be found in OTC cough syrups, used in meth labs to produce inexpensive meth. Since then, the use of methamphetamine has risen exponentially. In 2006, the World Health Organization reported that meth was the most abused illicit drug globally. And while its use has declined globally, meth remains a significant problem in the United States and worldwide.
Fast Facts: Methamphetamine Abuse in Numbers
- Only 16,000 people in the United States receive a prescription for amphetamines, which is supposedly less than four metric tons
- 500 metric tons of methamphetamine and amphetamine-type stimulants are used every year in the United States
- 2% of individuals seeking help for drug and alcohol abuse in Hawaii were methamphetamine users
- Methamphetamine can sustain a high for up to 15 hours, so binge users can keep the effects going and stay awake for days
- 3,728 people died from meth overdose in 2014
- 15% of all drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved the use of methamphetamine
- The average age for meth misuse is 23.3 years