Speed drugs are amphetamines including methamphetamine. All are highly addictive stimulants. They all can be injected, smoked, snorted, or consumed orally, provides direct stimulation of the central nervous system by releasing high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This dopamine enhances body movements and mood by stimulating brain cells.
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 existed as well but was so expensive 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. Normally, when a person is not under the influence of any amphetamine, the neurons in the brain naturally synthesize dopamine when needed. When the need for dopamine passes, enzymes in the body then naturally degrade the dopamine in a process called re-uptake. Besides creating dopamine in the body when it isn’t needed, methamphetamines also retard the re-uptake process. As a result, speed users experience an increased mood and highly enhanced body movements for periods of time that are longer than the body is designed to naturally handle, resulting in a significant number of side effects and dangers.
An offshoot of cocaine called “crack cocaine” burst on the 1980s drug scene, followed by the much cheaper and even more dangerous speed drug crack. Made by “freebasing” cocaine powder to create crack rocks, crack is smoked and aptly named because of the cracking sounds heard by 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 just as deadly as crack methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulate made in drug cartel “super labs” or backyard meth labs. To make meth, addicts use a variety of over-the-counter ingredients, from pseudoephedrine, toluene and hydrochloric acid to antifreeze, anhydrous ammonia and lithium extracted from batteries.
Methamphetamine is 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.
Side Effects and Dangers
In terms of side effects and dangers, speed is roughly comparable to the drug cocaine. The onset of effects takes a little longer than with cocaine, but the effects also last longer. The following are common side effects and dangers associated with speed:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure which 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
- Contraction in the urinary bladder sphincter which 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 a symptoms similar to Parkinson’s Disease
- Increased likelihood of premature delivery and fetal abnormalities in pregnant women
- Increased alertness and apprehension which 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 that can be caused by speed, children of speed users are much more likely to suffer from some form of child abuse, accident in the 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 busted in Indiana
- 1034 meth labs busted in Missouri
- 939 meth labs busted in Ohio
- 961 meth labs busted in Tennessee
- 729 meth labs in 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 thought to be the second most abused drug in the world behind marijuana.
- Prisons in some midwestern states have populations where over 80 percent of those incarcerated were convicted on meth-related charges.
- Methamphetamine abuse causes an estimated 15,000 U.S. deaths every year. Nearly eight percent of emergency room admissions can be attributed to methamphetamine addiction and overdose.
Signs that 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”)
Long Term Effects
Chronic meth addiction may cause the user to suffer psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, visual/auditory hallucinations and a complete break with reality. 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 speed drug strokes occur if pooled blood forms blood clots that block blood flow to the brain. Without oxygen, the brain cannot function and will 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, treatment for speed abuse should be started as soon as possible for the best results. Speed users are likely to 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 fully unless treatment starts very shortly after the abuse started.
The most effective treatment for speed 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. While there isn’t any specific drug that is approved to assist with methamphetamine withdrawal, some drugs like bupropion have been shown to offer mild assistance.