The dangers of methamphetamine: ingredients and how it’s made
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In today’s news cycles, opioids steal the show, but an equally harmful plague is flooding the United States: methamphetamine.
According to the 2016 National Drug Threat Survey, 31.8% of responding agencies reported that meth was the greatest drug threat in their areas. The same survey reported that it was the greatest drug threat in the American Southwest, but it also dominates the Central West, Pacific, and Southeast.
Users prefer meth for many reasons, including increased attention and energy, a rush and a feeling of euphoria, and a decreased appetite. Meth also has a stronger effect than cocaine, as the effects last for a longer period of time and a larger percentage of the drug remains in the body, which could explain its appeal.
But everything about meth, down to its ingredients and the way it is made, is dangerous. To help you understand the risks of using it or being around those who do, we’ve broken down the process of making meth and hope that by doing so, you can break the urge to “break bad.”
The history of methamphetamine
Methamphetamine was developed in 1893 by Nagayoshi Nagai, a Japanese scientist, and was first used by Germany, England, America, and Japan in World War II. It gave soldiers a boost of endurance and warded off fatigue, which was useful during wartimes. Japanese factory workers also used meth to work longer hours.
After the war, however, Japan’s meth supply exceeded demand. Men no longer needed to use it for warfare, but pharmaceutical companies still wanted to make a profit, so they created an over-the-counter pill for the public. This launched the first meth epidemic, which spread from Japan to Guam, the U.S. Marshall Islands, and the U.S. West Coast from 1945 through the 1950s.
These epidemics have been recurring ever since, even after The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of amphetamines as Schedule II drugs. This means that although they have a high potential for abuse that could lead to psychological or physical dependence, there are legitimate medical reasons to prescribe them, even if severe restrictions are involved.
To try to curb these epidemics, Congress passed the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act in 1996. It regulated mail order and chemical companies that sold chemicals used to make meth. Under this law, anyone who is buying large amounts of these chemicals would have to prove that they intended to use them for legitimate purposes and any chemical supply company who sold to people who make meth would be punished.
What ingredients is meth made of?
The common ingredients of meth —along with where they’re found and their associated dangers— include:
- Acetone is found in nail polish remover and paint thinner. It’s extremely flammable.
- Anhydrous Ammonia is found in fertilizer and some cleaners. Mixing it with other chemicals creates a toxic gas.
- Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine is found in some cold medicines and diet pills. It can harm the respiratory system, nervous system, and heart in large quantities.
- Hydrochloic Acid is used to make plastic. It is so corrosive that it can remove rust from steel and is capable of eating away flesh.
- Lithium is found in batteries. It burns the skin, is highly explosive, and reacts violently with water.
- Red phosphorus is found on matchboxes, in road flares, and in other explosives. It is highly flammable.
- Toluene is found in brake fluid. It is so corrosive it can dissolve rubber.
- Sodium Hydroxide or lye is used to dissolve roadkill. It is corrosive and can also burn skin or cause blindness.
- Sulfuric Acid is found in drain cleaner or toilet cleaner. It is corrosive and can also burn the skin.
As you can see, every ingredient involved in making meth is dangerous to humans on its own. This means that both making and using meth is incredibly dangerous, to be avoided at all costs.
How is meth made?
Meth is made by cooking the above ingredients in a series of steps:
- Either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is sourced illegally or extracted from cold and diet medicines.
- A chemical reaction is created by adding either anhydrous ammonia and lithium, or red phosphorous, iodine crystals, and water. Either method will create meth.
- A solvent is added to extract the meth from the waste.
- Bubbling acidic gas through the meth forms it into crystals.
The entire process is dangerous, as the materials used are toxic, caustic, corrosive, flammable, and explosive.
How can you spot a meth lab?
A house may contain a meth lab if you notice the following from outside:
- Blacked-out windows.
- Chemical cans or drums such as Drano, iodine crystals, lye, pool acid, antifreeze, etc.
- Extensive security, such as “Beware of Dog” or “Private Property” signs, surveillance cameras, and listening devices.
- High fences around the yard, especially when no animals are present.
- Hoses hanging from windows.
- Lots of trash.
- Secretive or paranoid occupants.
- The smell of solvents.
- Visitors at odd hours, especially late at night.
A house may be a meth lab if you notice the following inside:
- Camping fuel.
- Dismantled smoke detectors.
- Empty pill bottles, and cans of alcohol, toluene, and paint thinner.
- Lab equipment, like glass tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners, and large plastic containers.
- Large amounts of cat litter.
- Many stoves, hot plates, or blow torches.
- Mason jars or other glass containers.
- Melted pots and pans.
- Numerous cold medicines or non-prescription weight-loss pills.
- Plastic tubes.
- Propane tanks.
- Red-stained coffee filters.
- Starter fluid.
If you believe that you’ve found a meth lab, do not approach it as the chemicals inside could be dangerous or even lethal. Instead, call 911 immediately.
How can meth users/cookers get help?
If you or someone you know is using or making meth, please refer them to the meth hotline. There are many ways to help you detox and make your way through rehab. Different types of behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches you new coping skills, can also be effective.
Meth is a dangerous drug in all its aspects, but your life doesn’t have to be consumed by it. Take steps to get healthy today.
Read next: Crystal meth addiction: side effects