Jan 20, 2003: What is the history of methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, (“crystal meth” “Hawaiian ice” “crank”, “zip” “crusty”) is an N-methyl homologue of amphetamine.  Use of this drug originated in East Asian countries in the 80s, and then spread to Hawaii.  Hawaii is centered between the continental US and Asia.  Geography and culture have resulted in increased use of the smokeable meth in Hawaii, which predated more widespread use in the continental US.  Tennessee ranks as one of the top 5 states where this drug is most frequently used.

The reasons this drug is preferred over cocaine are availability, relatively low cost and a longer duration of action.  Methamphetamines can be ingested or snorted, injected or smoked (“ice” “crystal”) and are used for their cheap lengthy effects.  The crash that follows the rush is more severe than that seen with cocaine.  Methamphetamine is preferred over other amphetamines because it has fewer of the peripheral sympathomimetic effects and more of a stimulant effect on the CNS.  It is often used with ethanol, cocaine, or heroin.  Tolerance develops and chronic abusers may use as much as 500-1500mg/day.

The average hit of ice is 1/10 of a gram and effects last up to 15 hours.  Based on animal studies, effects of ice may last 10 times longer than cocaine.  The popularity of ice is based on the immediate clinical effects including the immediate high similar to that of an intravenous drug-but no needle.

Next week:  Actions of methamphetamine

As always, if there are any questions, call the MTPC.

I am interested in any questions that you would like answered in “Question of the Week.”  Please e-mail me with any suggestions at donna.seger@Vanderbilt.edu

Donna Seger, M.D.
Medical Director, Middle Tennessee Poison Center