The University of Arizona
 

History, Pharmacology, and Prevalence
Methamphetamine Overview:
Origin and History

Amphetamine was first synthesized by a Romanian chemist named Lazar Edeleanu (a.k.a. Edeleano) at the University of Berlin in 1887, but was not used clinically until Gordon A. Alles re-synthesized the drug in the 1920s for use in medical settings to treat asthma, hayfever, and colds.[1-5]  In 1932, Smith, Kline, and French Laboratories marketed the first amphetamine product, an amphetamine-based inhaler (trade name, Benzedrine) to treat nasal congestion.[6]  During the remaining 1930s, amphetamines were promoted by U.S. pharmaceutical companies as treatments for ailments such as rhinitis and asthma.[1-7]

Methamphetamine (MA), a variant of amphetamine, was first synthesized in Japan in 1893 by Nagayoshi Nagai from the precursor chemical ephedrine.[8-10]  MA was not widely used until World War II (1940s), at which time German, English, American, and Japanese governments began giving their military personnel the drug to enhance endurance and alertness and ward off fatigue.[2,6,9,10]  (Note: Even today, amphetamines are sometimes used by the U.S. military.  In 2002, U.S. pilots in Afghanistan killed and wounded Canadian soldiers in “friendly fire.”  The defending lawyers argued that the pilots’ use of amphetamines, which is sanctioned by the Air Force, may have affected the pilots’ judgment.[6]

In addition to military usage, Japanese factory workers were known to use MA to work longer hours.  Post World War II, former Japanese military warehouses had an abundant amount of the drug in storage and as a result, large quantities of over-the-counter methamphetamine pills were produced for domestic consumption by Japanese pharmaceutical companies.  It was in Japan that the first MA epidemic occurred.[1]

In the U.S. a prescription was needed to access amphetamines, thus slowing the onset of an epidemic.  Nevertheless, by the 1950s, the prevalence of amphetamine use was on the rise among civilians, including groups such as college students, truck drivers, athletes, housewives, and individuals performing monotonous jobs.[1,11]  By 1959, the FDA banned amphetamine-based inhalers due to increases in their abuse.[12]  However, at the same time, amphetamine and its various forms were promoted as therapeutic agents for health problems such as hyperactivity, obesity, narcolepsy, and depression.  In the 1960s, administering amphetamines, including MA, by intravenous injection gained popularity, especially among individuals already using illicit drugs.  It was this group that may have first used amphetamines solely for their euphoric effects.[1]

Most of the amphetamines available at that time were diverted from pharmaceutical companies.  The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 largely ended that diversion, and thus helped reduce problems associated with the drug.[13]  All forms of amphetamines were classified as DEA Schedule II drugs in 1971.[6]  (Schedule II drugs have an accepted medical use, high potential for abuse, may lead to psychological or physical dependence, and are available only by prescription.)  Public health efforts that included education and treatment were also implemented to help address the problems related to amphetamines.[1]

Despite these efforts, the use of MA began rising again in the 1980s, due in large part to production of the drug in clandestine labs.[14]  To help counter this resurgence, the federal government regulated the precursor chemicals—ephedrine and pseudoephedrine—commonly used in the illicit production of MA.[15]  These efforts led to substantial temporary reductions in MA-related problems.[15-17]  However, they also inadvertently helped open the U.S. MA market to foreign producers, as domestic producers had difficulty obtaining the precursor chemicals needed to produce the drug.[17-18]  Foreign producers now supply much of the U.S. MA market, and attempts to bring that production under control have been problematic.[19]

Street names for MA include crystal, crank, ice, glass, go, meth, speed, and zoom.

 

References

  • (1) Wolkoff DA. Methamphetamine abuse: an overview for health care professionals. Hawaii Medical Journal 1997 Feb;56(2):34-6.
  • (2) MacKenzie RG, Heischober B. Methamphetamine. Pediatrics in Review 1997 Sep 1;18(9):305-9.
  • (3) Sulzer D, Mark SS, Poulsen NW, Galli A. Mechanisms of neurotransmitter release by amphetamines: A review. Progress in Neurobiology 2005;75:403-33.
  • (4) Alles GA. The comparative physiological actions of the DL-B-phenylisopropylamines. I. Pressor effect and toxicity. The Journal of Pharmacology And Experimental Therapeutics 1993;47:339-54.
  • (5) Edeleano L. Über einige derivative der Phenylmethacrylsaure und der Phenylisobuttersaure. Berl Dtsch Chem Ges 1887;20:616-22.
  • (6) McGuinness T. Methamphetamine abuse. American Journal of Nursing 2006 Dec;106(12):54-9.
  • (7) Derlet RW, Heischober B. Methamphetamine. Stimulant of the 1990s? Western Journal of Medicine 1990 Dec;153(6):625-8.
  • (8) Nagai T, Kamiyama S. Forensic toxicologic analysis of methamphetamine and amphetamine optical isomers by high performance liquid chromatography. International Journal of Legal Medicine 1988 Sep;101(3):151-9.
  • (9) Lineberry TW. Methamphetamine Abuse: A Perfect Storm of Complications. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2006 Jan 1;81(1):77-84.
  • (10) Meredith CW, Jaffe C, Ang-Lee K, Saxon AJ. Implications of Chronic Methamphetamine Use: A Literature Review. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 2005 May;13(3):141-54.
  • (11) Donaldson M, Goodchild JH. Oral health of the methamphetamine abuser. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy 2006 Nov 1;63(21):2078-82.
  • (12) Roll JM, Petry NM, Stitzer ML, Brecht ML, Peirce JM, McCann MJ, et al. Contingency management for the treatment of methamphetamine use disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 2006 Nov;163(11):1993-9.
  • (13) Beebe DK, Walley E. Smokable methamphetamine ('ice'): an old drug in a different form. American Family Physician 1995 Feb 1;51(2):449-53.
  • (14) Cunningham JK, Thielemeir MA. Amphetamine-Related Emergency Admissions: Trends and Regional Variations in California (1985-1994). Public Statistics Institute; 1996.
  • (15) Cunningham JK, Liu LM. Impacts of federal ephedrine and pseudoephedrine regulations on methamphetamine-related hospital admissions.[see comment]. Addiction 2003 Sep;98(9):1229-37.
  • (16) Cunningham JK, Liu LM. Impacts of federal precursor chemical regulations on methamphetamine arrests. Addiction 2005 Apr;100(4):479-88.
  • (17) Cunningham JK, Liu LM, Muramoto M. Methamphetamine suppression and route of administration: precursor regulation impacts on snorting, smoking, swallowing and injecting. Addiciton 2008 Apr 16.
  • (18) Cunningham JK, Liu LM. Impact of methamphetamine precursor legislation, a suppression policy, on the demand for drug treatment. Social Science & Medicine 2008;66:1463-73.
  • (19) National Drug Intelligence Center. National Drug Threat Assessment 2007. Johnstown, PA; 2006 Oct.

IllustrationsIllustrations

  • ="BenzInhaler"/
    BenzInhaler