19 September, 2007

Meth, the world’s most dangerous drug

Meth, crystal meth, speed, ice, crank, tweek/tweak, glass, uppers, yaba, shabu shabu. Just some synonyms for the drug methamphetamine.
After seeing the documentary on National Geographic about meth, I got interested in the way the drug works and effects the body. The results of use are, although the process is slow, disasterious, both on inside and outside of the body.

Methamphetamine structure
Methamphetamine structure

Methamphetamine (methylamphetamine or desoxyephedrine) is a psycho-stimulant and sympathomimetic drug, thus it simulates the effects of the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) and the hormone/neurotransmitter norepinephrine (noradrenaline), both causing a raise of blood pressure.

When taken for medical use (for the conditions: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], extreme obesity and narcolepsy), the usual way is oral administration. In recreational use it can be swallowed, snorted, smoked, dissolved in water and injected, inserted anally or inserted into the urethra. The better and more quick the concentration in the blood rises, the better the ‘fix’, for reasons that the effects desired by the user are felt more quickly and with a higher intensity.
Studies have shown that smoking methamphetamine is the fastest mechanism (i.e., it causes the blood concentration to rise the most quickly in the shortest period of time as it allows the substance to travel to the brain through a more direct route than intravenous injection).

Cascade release of the norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin
Cascade release of the norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin

Methamphetamine enters the brain and triggers a cascading release of the norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. Since it stimulates the mesolimbic reward pathway, causing euphoria and excitement, it is prone to abuse and addiction.
Users may become obsessed or perform repetitive tasks such as cleaning, hand-washing, or assembling and disassembling objects. Withdrawal is characterized by excessive sleeping, eating and depression-like symptoms, often accompanied by anxiety and drug-craving.
Paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, which may trigger a tension headache are other symptoms which are associated with chronic use.

Meth mouth
Meth mouth

Visual symptoms are known as a “meth mouth“. Methamphetamine addicts may lose their teeth abnormally quickly. This effect is not caused by any corrosive effects of the drug itself, which is a common myth. Sources state that it is probably caused by a combination of drug-induced psychological and physiological changes resulting in xerostomia (dry mouth), extended periods of poor oral hygiene, frequent consumption of high calorie, carbonated beverages and tooth grinding and clenching.”
Like other substances which stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, methamphetamine causes decreased production of acid-fighting saliva and increased thirst, resulting in increased risk for tooth decay, especially when thirst is quenched by high-sugar drinks.

The big problem with methamphetamine, is the way it can be produced. Most of the necessary chemicals are readily available in household products or over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines. Synthesis is relatively simple, but entails risk with flammable and corrosive chemicals, particularly the solvents used in extraction and purification. Clandestine production is therefore often discovered by fires and explosions caused by the improper handling of volatile or flammable solvents.

Drugs, Humans, Neuroscience