Crystal Meth’s Effects & The Chemistry Behind It

          Ever since
the evolution of the human race thousands of years ago, people often try to
find ways to cope with their problems or to simply pass the time. This is
perfectly fine until these methods of distraction begin to affect their daily
lives. One of the most common forms of diversion is through the abuse of drugs that
can stimulate the body to undergo a temporary psychological change. Amidst the
many types of drugs that have been created, meth, short for methamphetamine, is
one that is incredibly dangerous to the body and the psyche of a human. Traced
back to its Japanese scientist creator, Nagayoshi Nagai, historians were able
to determine that it was first developed in 1893 and was used by countries like
Germany, England, Japan, and America in the second World War. The drug’s
original purpose was to provide a boost of endurance to the soldiers and to
prevent them from feeling tired, which was extremely useful in war. It is also
believed that the Japanese Kamikaze pilots would be given this drug before they
performed their suicide missions. However, when the war ended, the drug was no
longer needed to keep soldiers awake, so it was then transformed into an
over-the-counter diet pill that was legal until the 1970s. This caused the
first meth epidemic to spread throughout Europe and Asia as it eventually fell
into the hands of drug gangs that would produce and sell methamphetamine in the
form of a crystal to customers in desperate need of psychological relief. After
Congress realized that the high addiction rate was a serious issue, they aimed
to prevent the creation of methamphetamine through laws such as The Controlled
Substances Act of 1970 that classified all forms of amphetamines as Schedule II
drugs and The Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 that regulated
companies who sold the chemicals to make it. A few years ago, in 2005, it was
moved up to a Schedule I drug, and “thus, the maximum penalties now apply
to methamphetamine, including the possibility of life sentences for
trafficking, and production and possession can garner sentences of up to seven
years” (Hart, 13). Ever since the introduction of this drug, people have turned
to the recreational abuse of it for a number of different reasons depending on
the person, and because of this, it created the highly addictive concept that
now forever shadows methamphetamine.

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those who fall into the trap of this addictive drug face devastating short and long
term effects that can forever alter a person. Thanks to the increased study of
this drug by brilliant scientists, the mental and physical effects of crystal
meth are better understood than ever before. Immediately after this drug enters
the body by smoking, snorting, or injecting it, a sense of increased
“energy” forms, the pupils dilate, hunger is suppressed, and there is
an increase in “heart rate, blood pressure, [and] body temperature” (Truth
About Drugs). Not only do they experience these side effects, but they also are
at risk of “nausea, hallucinations, panic, psychosis, convulsions,
seizures, [and] bizarre, erratic, [or] sometimes violent behavior” (Truth About
Drugs). If the use of crystal meth is continued, users will experience
“liver, kidney, and lung damage,” memory loss, mood swings,
malnutrition, depression, “damaged blood vessels in the brain that can
cause strokes or an irregular heartbeat,” and possibly eventual death (Truth
About Drugs). As if these side effects aren’t enough to scare a person into
never touching crystal meth, they can even develop a nasty physical reaction
such as “open scabs, droopy skin, and hair loss” on the face and
scalp (Hart, 11). There are seven stages to a methamphetamine experience: the
rush, the high, the binge, tweaking, the crash, the hangover, and withdrawal.
The rush and the high are known as the best stages because of the increase in
heartbeat, blood pressure, and the delusional effects. The binge and the
tweaking stages, however, are the times when a user is most likely to become
addicted because they are then encouraged to increase the doses to continue
their high and eventually become “disconnected from reality” (Truth About
Drugs). The last three stages, the crash, the hangover, and withdrawal, are
common experiences amongst other drugs as well, but with crystal meth, they are
worse. It is during these stages that a user will become depressed, lifeless,
exhausted, and possibly suicidal. Regardless of these terrifying side effects,
people still wish to consume methamphetamine in hopes of achieving a high that
will transport them to a happy place where problems don’t exist. The problem
with this is that each high is less intense as the one before as the meth
addict’s body grows accustomed to this new drug, which “urg[es] the[m]
into a dark and deadly spiral of addiction” as they must consume more and
more to acquire the desired trip (Truth About Drugs). In fact, “the Drug
Enforcement Administration claims that nearly 12 million people in the US
reported lifetime use of crystal meth or methamphetamine for non-medical
reasons in 2011” (The Effects of Crystal Meth Use). Those who decide to
try crystal meth, even if it is only a one-time occasion, must be strongly
aware of the possible effects that can be inflicted upon their physical and
mental being.

the destructive effects of crystal meth, the chemistry behind the drug can
actually be quite beautiful to a scientist that appreciates the intricate
chemical makeup of it.  Methamphetamine
is a part of the phenethylamine group, which are chemical substances that are
made up of a phenyl group attached to a linear chain of two carbon atoms and
ends in an amino group. In this formation, the asymmetric a-carbon atom creates
two enantiomers, which is a pair of stereoisomers that are “mirror images
of each other” and are produced in a molecule containing an asymmetric
carbon atom, which are known as the R- and S-stereoisomers (Methamphetamine Drug
Profile). In methamphetamine, the S-isomer tends to be more active than the
R-isomer. Taking a look at the periodic side of crystal meth, the molecular
formula of it is “C10H15N” with a molecular weight of “149.2
g/mol” (Methamphetamine Drug Profile). After consumption of crystal meth
takes place, the plasma levels of the body are between “0.001-0.005
mg/L”, and in fatal situations where a user has overdosed, the blood
concentration can be as high as “0.5 mg/L” (Methamphetamine Drug Profile).
Due to “chronic use of methamphetamine,” the user will eventually
undergo neurochemical and neuroanatomical changes that can never be reversed.
Now that we have a much better understanding about the chemical explanation of
what methamphetamine is, let’s dig deeper into what it is actually made up of.
While there are many variations as to how a person can cook meth, the common ingredients
are as follows: acetone, C3H6O – a flammable substance found in nail polish
remover and paint thinner, anhydrous ammonia, NH3 – found in fertilizer and
certain cleaners and can create a toxic gas when mixed with other chemicals,
Ephedrine or Pseudoephedrine, C10H15NO – found in some cold medicine or diet
pills and can inflict harm upon the respiratory and nervous system as well as
the heart, hydrochloric acid, HCl – a highly corrosive substance used to make
plastic, lithium, Li – a highly explosive component found in batteries and can
burn the skin, red phosphorus, P – an extremely flammable element found in
matchboxes, road flares, and other explosives, toluene, C7H8 – a corrosive
substance found in brake fluid, sodium hydroxide, NaOH – also highly corrosive
and is used to dissolve roadkill as well as cause blindness, and finally,
sulfuric acid, H2SO4, – another corrosive substance found in drain or toilet
cleaners (The Dangers of Methamphetamine). In relation to the chemistry aspect
of this profoundly destructive drug, its boiling point is 212 degrees Celsius
while its melting point is 170 degrees Celsius (Methamphetamine).  The entire drug itself is the product of
chemical reactions that are conducted perfectly to produce this stimulant. The
first step is extracting Ephedrine or Pseudoephedrine from medicine containing
it, then a chemical reaction is created by adding anhydrous ammonia and lithium
(or red phosphorous, iodine crystals, and water, both methods will work).
Afterwards, a solvent is added to remove the meth from the waste product, and
finally, it is formed into a crystal form by bubbling acidic gas through the
extracted meth (The Dangers of Methamphetamine). Although using methamphetamine
has terribly horrifying consequences, a scientist can’t help but marvel at its
wonderful chemistry and the fact that a user would go through so much trouble
to simply obtain a temporary high.

          All in
all, what we have learned is that methamphetamine is an exceptionally dangerous
drug, from its highly corrosive and particularly flammable ingredients to its
ruinous side effects, that has the potential to forever encapture a person in
its enticing grasp. In an ideal world where there are no drug addicts or people
feeling low enough to drug themselves to experience happiness for only a few
minutes, there might actually be a life worth living. It is so sad to behold
millions of people with potential to become successful to completely give up
and allow themselves to be tempted into the path of self-destruction. Perhaps,
in future experimentation and research, scientists, or even dedicated users,
could develop a drug that mimics the euphoric feelings meth provides without
all the negative outcomes. Until then, the best option would be to stay clear
of substances that will harm a person rather than help. DON’T DO DRUGS!


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