Speed drugs literally make a person go fast in their feelings and head. This type of drug generally include amphetamines and methamphetamine. They provide direct stimulation of the central nervous system by releasing high levels of dopamine. This increase in dopamine enhances body movements and mood by stimulating brain cells.
- Methods of delivery include injecting, smoking, snorting, or orally.
- All are highly addictive stimulants.
In the 1960s and 1970s, amphetamine, cocaine, “dexies,” and “black beauties” (both prescription diet pills) were popular among the beatnik crowd in New York City and Los Angeles. Cocaine was so expensive that only the rich and famous could afford to use it.
Drugs such as “black beauties” pills are quite common and readily available on the streets. Usually, when a person is not under the influence of amphetamine, the brain’s neurons naturally synthesize dopamine when needed. However, when the need for dopamine passes, enzymes in the body naturally degrade dopamine in a reuptake process. Besides creating dopamine in the body when it isn’t needed, methamphetamines also retard the reuptake process. As a result, users experience a high mood and highly enhanced body movements for more extended periods than the body handles naturally, resulting in side effects and dangers.
Crack cocaine burst on the drug scene in the 80s. Then came the much cheaper and even more dangerous drug crack. Made by “freebasing” cocaine powder to create crack rocks, crack is smoked and aptly named because of the cracking sounds of users smoking crack in a crack pipe.
- Although crack killed hundreds of thousands of addicts during the 80s and 90s, another type of amphetamine soon emerged as deadly as crack methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant made in drug cartel “super labs” or backyard meth labs. To make meth, addicts use various over-the-counter ingredients, from pseudoephedrine, toluene, and hydrochloric acid to antifreeze, anhydrous ammonia, and lithium extracted from batteries. They are a neurotoxin that forces the brain to release massive amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter controlling the brain’s pleasure and reward pathway. Dopamine is primarily responsible for regulating our emotional response to things that make us feel good. The more dopamine circulating in our brain, the more motivated we are to move towards something we know makes us feel euphoric, energetic, and invincible.
In terms of side effects and dangers, these types of drugs are roughly comparable to cocaine. The onset of the impact takes a little longer than cocaine, but the results also last longer. The following are common side effects and dangers associated with them:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure can exacerbate cardiovascular problems
- Frequent and prolonged erections in male users
- Appetite loss, nausea, and abdominal pain which in combination can result in extreme weight loss
- The contraction in the urinary bladder sphincter can lead to loss of control of urinary functions
- Irreversible damage to the blood vessels in the brain, eventually resulting in strokes
- Damage to the neurons that naturally create dopamine, resulting in symptoms similar to Parkinson’s Disease
- Increased likelihood of premature delivery and fetal abnormalities in pregnant women
- Increased alertness and apprehension can result in bouts of paranoia
- Significant mood swings
- Decreased awareness of fatigue and insomnia which can result in both physical and mental stress
- Obsessive behavior
- A state of clinical psychosis which is dangerous to both the user and those around the user
In addition to the direct harm caused by them, children of users are much more likely to suffer from some form of child abuse, accidents at home due to neglect, or accidental exposure to the drug.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports the following statistics regarding methamphetamine laboratory incidences between 2004 and 2014:
- 1471 meth labs – Indiana
- 1034 labs – Missouri
- 939 – Ohio
- 961 – Tennessee
- 729 – Illinois
The Drug Policy Alliance offers the following statistics regarding meth use:
- Over 10 million adults have smoked or injected methamphetamine at least once.
- Methamphetamine is the second most abused drug in the world behind marijuana.
- Prisons in some midwestern states have populations with over 80 percent of those in jail on meth-related charges.
- Methamphetamine abuse causes an estimated 15,000 U.S. deaths every year. Nearly eight percent of emergency room admissions are methamphetamine addiction and overdose.
Signs someone is using meth include:
- Excessive perspiration
- Rapid breathing
- Hyperactivity/fidgeting/inability to remain still
- Rambling nonsensically/ talking nonstop
- Jaw clenching/teeth grinding
- Performing meaningless, repetitive tasks (arranging and rearranging items, for example)
- Not sleeping for days
- Eating nothing but sugary foods (one reason why meth addicts develop “meth mouth”)
Chronic meth addiction may cause the user to suffer psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, visual/auditory hallucinations, and a complete break from reality. In addition, suicidal or homicidal thoughts have incited long-term meth abusers to engage in violent acts, especially when “tweaking” or going through withdrawal.
Long-term meth addiction damages brain arteries by constricting them enough to prevent blood from providing nourishment and oxygen to the brain. Meth-related and other drug strokes occur if pooled blood forms blood clots that block blood flow to the brain. Without oxygen, the brain cannot function and eventually shut down permanently as brain cells start dying within minutes of oxygen deprivation.
Defeating a methamphetamine addiction requires detoxification, inpatient rehabilitation in an excellent drug recovery center, and ongoing counseling with addiction therapists.
As a rule of thumb, abuse treatment should be started as soon as possible for the best results. Users suffer long-term side effects after only a relatively short time. If these side effects are left untreated, many will become irreversible. Even with treatment, side effects like decreased dopamine production and motor skill damage usually do not recover unless treatment starts.
The most effective treatment for abuse is one that aggressively combines multiple forms of treatment, including counseling, a doctor-supervised program, support from friends and family, and significant follow-up work, including regular drug testing.