The history of methamphetamine

the history of methamphetamine

Jan 18, 1887: Amphetamine was originally synthesized at Universität Berlin by Romanian chemist Lazar Edeleanu (1861-1941) and originally called phenylisopropylamine. It was then forgotten for the next 4 decades.

1919: Methamphetamine is synthesized by Japanese scientist A. Ogata.

1930: Amphetamine was found to raise blood pressure.

1932: Amphetamine is marketed as ‘benzedrine’ by Smith, Kline & French, in an over-the-counter inhaler to treat congestion.

1935: Amphetamine’s stimulant effect is recognized and doctors successfully utilize it to treat narcolepsy.

1937: Amphetamine is authorized by the American Medical Association for sale in tablet form. It is sold by prescription for the treatment of narcolepsy and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

World War II: Both Amphetamine and Methamphetamine are largely administered to soldiers to help improve performance. This led to addiction issues in Japan after the war.

1940: Methamphetamine is marketed under the brand name “Methedrine” by Burroughs Wellcome.

1942: Dextro-amphetamine and methamphetamine are readily available.

1950 – 1953: U.S. administers amphetamine to soldiers in Korea.

1954: Height of the Japanese amphetamine epidemic. There are approximated to be more than 2 million amphetamine users in a population of 88.5 million.

1959:  Original report of IV injection of contents from Benzedrine inhalers.

1963: Illegal speed manufacture starts when the Attorney General of California asks that injectable ampoules be removed from the market.

1960’s:  Methamphetamine consumption increases in the United States.

1970: Amphetamine is regulated under schedule II in the U.S. with the passage of the ‘U.S. Drug Abuse Regulation and Control Act of 1970’. This makes it illicit to possess without a prescription.

Oct 27, 1970:  The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act is approved. Part II of this is the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) which defines a scheduling system for drugs. It places the majority of the known hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, peyote, cannabis, & MDA) in Schedule I. It classifies coca, cocaine and injectable methamphetamine in Schedule II. Other amphetamines and stimulants, such as non-injectable methamphetamine are under Schedule III.

Jul 7, 1971: Amphetamine and Methamphetamine (non-injectable) are now classified under Schedule II.

Late 1980’s: Smoked Methamphetamine gains in popularity.

1996:  U.S. Congress passes the Methamphetamine Control Act establishing new regulations over key ingredients and reinforcing criminal penalties for possession, distribution and production.

Methamphetamine was originally synthesized from ephedrine in Japan in 1893 by a chemist by the name of A. Ogata. During 1919, crystallized methamphetamine was synthesized by Akira Ogata via reduction of ephedrine using red phosphorus and iodine. The related compound amphetamine was originally synthesized in Germany in 1887 by Laz?r Edeleanu.

One of the earliest uses of the drug amphetamine occurred when Pervitin was widely distributed across rank and division, from elite forces to tank crews and aircraft personnel in the army. Chocolates dosed with methamphetamine were called Fliegerschokolade (“flyer’s chocolate”) when given to pilots, or Panzerschokolade (“tanker’s chocolate”) when administered to tank crews. From 1942 until his death in 1945, Adolf Hitler was administered daily intravenous injections of methamphetamine by his personal doctor, Theodor Morell, as a treatment for depression and fatigue. It is possible that the Parkinson’s-like symptoms which developed in 1940 were related to his abuse of methamphetamine.

Following World War II, a wide supply of amphetamine, formerly stockpiled by the Japanese military, became available in Japan under the street name shabu (also Philopon (pronounced ????, or Hiropon), its trade name there.) The Japanese Ministry of Health banned the drug in 1951; and its prohibition is now believed to have added to the growing yakuza-activities related to illicit drug manufacture. Currently, methamphetamine is still associated with the Japanese underworld, but its use is discouraged by strong social taboos.

In the 1950s, there was an increase in the legal prescription of methamphetamine to the American public. According to the 1951 edition of Pharmacology and Therapeutics by Arthur Grollman, methamphetamine was prescribed for “narcolepsy, post-encephalitic Parkinsonism, alcoholism … in some depressive states… and in the treatment of obesity.”

During the 1960s, significant use began of clandestinely produced methamphetamine. Methamphetamine was now created in users’ own homes for personal use. The recreational use of methamphetamine peaked during the 1980s. The December 2, 1989 edition of The Economist described San Diego, California as the “methamphetamine capital of North America.”

In the year 2000, The Economist again described San Diego, California as the methamphetamine capital of North America, and South Gate, California as the second capital city.

Meth (methamphetamine) has a strangely long and epic history, although not widely known nowadays to have such a vast story beyond that of a common street drug. Methamphetamine was formed from the original amphetamine, Ephedrine, in 1893 by chemist Nagai Nagayoshi. The name, methamphetamine, derived from the elements used in making this, adding the compound methyl to the amphetamine, ephedrine. Meth was created in its crystal form, as we know it today, in 1919 by Japanese pharmacologist Akira Ogata when he added both Red Phosphorus (a nonmetal element of the Nitrogen Group) and Iodine to ephedrine, causing a reduction in the drug. Not only was it easier to make and more potent, this Crystal-Meth was water soluble, the perfect front-runner for injection. And now that this version of Meth had been invented, it was much easier to make, in bulk, as its pill form and easily ingested as such. This pill form would later be known, as we know it today, as Speed.

Now that you know how it came to be, how was it used? In the military, it kept soldiers “awake and alert” for days at a time. Useful? During World War II, they certainly thought so. Both sides, the Axis and the Allies, used them with their soldiers. Hitler used methamphetamine personally, either intravenously to try and treat his Parkinson’s-like disease, or it was in fact the cause of said disease. The Japanese air force used them for their pilots, and their pilots were very well known for the “kamikaze technique”. They were originally given to keep the pilots alert and ready during long flights. The U.S. had this idea as well, although the idea was scratched relatively early as the pilots would get irritable and couldn’t channel their aggression. They opted for a different variation of the same drug. Kind of explains the Japanese pilot some, yes? Not so good for pilots, great for foot soldiers needing to keep off fatigue, which both sides of the war used it for. And seeing as how there weren’t many studies into the drugs negative effects, it was widely distributed with the whole “miracle drug” idea behind it.

Now, Ephedrine (amphetamines) has its own history before and after it was used to create Meth. Ephedrine is a drug made from the shrub, Ephedra, created in 1887, in Germany. The shrub had been used for thousands of years, in countries like China, Pakistan, India, etc. to make teas that open the airways for asthmatics and the like, as well as someone suffering from a cold or any other illness that can make it hard to breathe. Ironically, when the amphetamine was created, it was a miracle drug in search of a disease. The amphetamine didn’t find a home until the late 1920’s, when it was sold as a cure and treatment for anything from depression to congestion problems. Get that? It took these people almost 30 YEARS to prescribe it to the very people it was helping in its shrub days, as well as getting them out of their depression or what have you. In 1932, the amphetamine was packaged in an inhaler, named Benzedrine, and sold over-the-counter to treat nasal congestion associated with the common cold.

Benzedrine has a history as well, big surprise. Benzedrine was an over-the-counter drug, as before mentioned. People began to use, and abuse, this easily gotten drug to get high and to, most likely, avoid the current state of affairs, known as The Great Depression. Fun fact: Jack Kerouac wrote the first draft of his famed novel “On the Road”, now a major motion picture, while on a three week Benzedrine bender. This is a good example of someone abusing this over-the-counter cold medicine, don’t you think?
Now that is a lot of history! And we haven’t even gotten to the 1950’s! I think it’s time for a timeline, don’t you think?

meth history timeline from 1887 up to 1945

Now that we’ve got that all squared away and easy to see, it’s time to take a look at the next part of history. We will see why Meth became the street drug we all know, and how.
So, shortly after WW2, after the Japanese waved the old white flag, Japan was seeing the beginning of a meth epidemic. Why? Meth in its crystal form was still being used, but the main public use of the drug was in the pill form. The Japanese military had a surplus of the methamphetamines made in its pill form, known as Methedrine, for its troops in the war. The street name, we all know, is none other than Speed, as mentioned before. Having so much of it, the drug quickly went into the mainstream public, being sold over-the-counter for weight-loss, mild depression, alcoholism, hay fever, etc. or for just a quick “pick-me-up.” Having a surplus, The Japanese government pushed into the public to rid itself of the surplus and soon was in high demand by the public for obvious reasons. From Japan, the epidemic spread over seas to Guam, The U.S. Marshall Islands and the West Coast of the U.S. All of this happened during the post WW2 era, circa 1945-1950.

In the U.S., these “Uppers, Pep Pills or Bennies” were continuously sold medically to treat obesity, narcolepsy, etc. and sold for non-medical purposes as a cure all for anything, just about. Truck Drivers, students and professionals were using them to stay up, get huge amounts of energy and the like. Despite doctors of the day trying to continue its medical use, like treating heroin addicts, they could no longer ignore the effects it was having on everyday society. Everywhere you looked there was a new speed freak. Not only that, these same experts discovered that people had begun cracking open the Benzedrine inhalers (originally made as bronchial dilators aka lung expanders when sick), finding a piece of paper soaked in the drug and ingesting it for an extremely powerful high. So the effects were beginning to make themselves very evident. This epidemic continued to worsen with no real solution to the problem. In the 1970’s, the speed freak sub-culture was obsessed with the pill form and that was the popular form to take.
This continued to occur until about 1980, when the federal government put strict controls on Phenyl-2-propane, a main ingredient to use to make meth. Although, wouldn’t you know it, cooks of meth found that Ephedrine (Hello again) could make the crystal form, mentioned earlier. Biker gangs, students and the like all began cooking* this on their own, taking it on their own and soon discovering how irritable and uncontrollable it made them, like the Japanese did so many years prior to them. This brought a relative end to the popular pill form, Speed, and brought in the Crystal Meth Era. In the mid 1980’s, this drug started getting serious attention and crack downs became more intense and common. Once this happened, Mexican drug manufacturers started bringing it in across the border. With this upsurge of Meth coming from Mexico, the type of Meth one could smoke was invented and became readily available.

*I mentioned above that people were “cooking” their own Meth once it was not available to buy so easily. Cooking, for those that don’t know, is a process of making a drug (in this case the drug is Meth) illegally for the intent of selling it illegally. Whether these “cooks” are making them at home, in the basement, have a “secure” location or what have you, they make it for the goal of selling the drug on the street. Having this set-up has its own dangers, as police and DEA agents raiding a meth manufacture “lab” can do some serious damage with all of the poisonous gases in the air.

In the mid 1990’s, new ways to cook the Meth were constructed and these types of the drug were sometimes four to six times stronger. Meth is seen to be used more frequently and to be more popular in the South West US and the West Coast US. Setting up shop in relatively rural areas becomes ideal for Meth Labs because of the geographic isolation that these areas bring, as well as a fresh supply of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine (fake ephedrine substitute) and other components. In 1996, Congress passes the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, which regulates mail orders and chemical companies selling these types of chemicals. In essence, if an individual or a company wanted to by large amounts of red phosphorus and iodine (needed ingredients to “cook” Meth), they would have to show they will use them in a legitimate way for legitimate purposes. Any large quantities of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine can be tracked by law enforcement agencies. Not only that, chemical companies get punished like crazy if they sell the chemicals needed for Meth to people who use those chemicals to make and distribute Meth.

This brings us pretty much up to date on all the kinds of Meth being used today. We have the Crystal form, which can be smoked, crushed for snorting, injected and so on. We have the pill form, Speed, which was very popular. We have the inhaler form, which has been taken out of the market. So much history here and still, people rediscover the stuff and it still gets used, despite all the negative things that have been brought about since its invention. Today’s Meth is far more potent than the drug sold years ago, as explained earlier. It is easy to get the recipe to make it yourself over the internet and is cheap and easy to make. Combine that with the “long lasting” high, Meth is now a very popular substitute for cocaine. This new generation has made this more the drug of choice and has led to an increase in use of the drug, creating a “new and improved” epidemic as well as an uprising in Meth Labs in the country.

history of methamphetamine from 1945 on

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