About Meth - Plain and Simple...
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In the beginning there was Ephedra
First there was this natural plant called Ephedra which is considered to be the oldest known brain altering substance, as it was found at Neanderthal burial sites. It had a mild stimulating effect, and energized the user’s body more than their brain, and helped people with difficulties breathing. The human body does not respond well to this chemical substance and has a hard time breaking down even the natural chemical. Ephedra and the synthetic (man made) version Ephedrine, used to be publicly available up until 2004 when they were banned by the Food and Drug Administration FDA as a one of the precursors (ingredients) that could be used to make Methamphetamine.
Ephedrine is the synthetic version of the natural chemical. The interesting (scary) point is that ephedrine is eliminated from the body virtually unchanged. What this means, is that the user’s body has a very hard time breaking down this chemical (the drug may cause damage to the human body), and Ephedrine is the simplest of the amphetamine-like chemicals! Ephedrine has also been used to manufacture Methamphetamine. Ephedrine can be swallowed, snorted, and injected. It is often sold as “herbal ecstasy”.
Pseudoephedrine is a chemical cousin to ephedrine and is found in many over-the-counter cough and cold medications. It is also used in the illicit production of Methamphetamine. Pseudoephedrine is still commonly sold in many over-the-counter decongestant products, although its sale is often limited to 2 packages purchased at any one time.
There are many man-made variations of the Amphetamine molecule. In 1932 Benzedrine was introduced for the treatment of asthma and rhinitis. It was sold in an ampoule that was broken and then inhaled. However, it was not long before addicts began to carefully break open the ampoules and inject the drug, causing effects similar to cocaine. During the war (WWII), amphetamines were given to soldiers on both sides to counteract fatigue and heighten endurance. During the 1950s and 1960s amphetamines were frequently prescribed, until their use grew to “epidemic proportions” in the 1970s. Amphetamine abusers soon learned that high doses could induce a severe depressive state making the person in withdrawal suicidal, cardiac collapse and death; leading to the phrase “SPEED KILLS”. In the 1970s Amphetamines were classified as Schedule II drugs and their frequency of being prescribed medically dropped off dramatically. The amphetamines have an anorexic side effect (weight loss) and at one point were thought to be useful in the treatment of obesity. They do have an appetite-suppressing side effect, however tolerance (needing more of the drug to get the same effects) to this aspect of their use develops in only 4 weeks. When prescribed for weight loss, the patient often gains back all their lost weight within 6 months.
Effects on the Human Brain
In contrast to ephedrine, which seems to have a larger impact on the human body, amphetamines and their synthetic variations seem to have their greatest impact on the human brain. The basic molecule closely resembles that of two different neurotransmitters (brain chemicals): norepinephrine and dopamine. Once in the brain, the amphetamine molecule is absorbed into those neurons (brain cells) that use dopamine as a neurotransmitter and stimulate those neurons to release their dopamine stores, while simultaneously blocking the reuptake pump that normally would remove dopamine from the synapse. In other words amphetamines hugely stimulate the “pleasure or reward center” of the brain. This fact seems to account for the sense of euphoria (high) that users experience. Other effects include reduced feelings of fatigue and increased concentration (up to a point).
Different types of Amphetamines
Consequences of Methamphetamine use
A user can experience, dryness of mouth, nausea, anorexia, headache, insomnia, periods of confusion, 10% experience tachychardia, Tourette’s syndrome, dizziness, agitation, a feeling of apprehension, flushing, pallor, muscle pains, excessive sweating, and delirium. 40% of users will experience moderate to severe depression, sense of fatigue, and lethargy that may last for hours, days, or even years.
Is Methamphetamine a problem?
In the 1990s Methamphetamine replaced cocaine as the stimulant of choice, and second only to Marijuana, as a commonly abused illicit drug. According to the United Nations in 2003, methamphetamine was most popular amongst people in their early 20s. Methamphetamine is the most popular intravenously administered drug currently in use by illicit drug abusers. A single ounce of meth can provide about 110 doses of the drug. Due to concerns about AIDS, other STDs, and hepatitis, many users will choose to use orally (swallow, or mix with food or drink), inhale (smoke) or absorb (snort), rather than inject the drug. Haloperidol and Diazepam (Valium) are effective in helping the individual calm down from an amphetamine high.
Does Methamphetamine Damage the Human Brain?
Norepinephrine levels are depleted throughout the brain and may not return to normal even after six months of abstinence. Damage to dopaminergic neurons seems limited to the caudate putamen region (receives reward signals feel satisfaction) without recovery to normal levels even after six months of abstinence. High levels of amphetamines may be toxic to those neurons in the brain that use serotonin (moods, and emotions - depression). Lastly meth causes changes in the vasculature of the brain (blood flow patterns), and it is not clear whether the changes are permanent. Some of the more serious consequences are:
Methamphetamine abusers are often difficult to treat due to meth causing the user to “create vivid long-term memories” of the drug experience. These memories form the basis of “cravings” and are often called “euphoric recall”. This is similar to cocaine users in that former users may continue to have vivid drug dreams for many months or even years after use has stopped. Amphetamine abuse is a serious issue, even occasional use (abuse), may have severe long lasting consequences. Halting abuse sooner than later is always preferred and education remains the solution to current prevention efforts and as the most cost effective method of reversing the current trends of increasing amphetamine use. Helping current and former users to know and understand the long-term effects of their use will aid them in their recovery. Medical interventions for the former user, such as being prescribed antidepressants are quite common. Although the determination of whether antidepressants (or other medications) are needed, and for how long is always an individual issues that should be discussed with a medical professional. Even simple things such as good nutrition and regular exercise have been shown to have significant benefits to long-term recovery and mental and emotional stability.
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