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Methamphetamine (Molecule of the Month for November 2005)

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Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant drug which induces a strong feeling of euphoria and is highly addictive. Pure methamphetamine, a colorless crystalline solid. Methamphetamine found on the street may be pure, or diluted with the chemicals that were used to synthesize it. Methamphetamine was first synthesized in 1919 by the Japanese chemist A. Ogata with the method of synthesis based on the reduction of ephedrine. Methamphetamine is structurally similar to methcathinone, amphetamine, and other stimulants, and it may be produced from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine by chemical reduction. Most of the necessary chemicals are readily available in household products or over-the-counter medicines. This makes methamphetamine appear unusually easy to make, unlike cannabis and cocaine, which are both harvested directly from plants. The synthesis involves moderately dangerous chemicals and processes that could be considered extremely dangerous. Until the early 1990s, methamphetamine was made mostly in clandestine labs run by drug traffickers in Mexico and California; these areas are still the largest U.S. producers. Since then, however, authorities have discovered increasing numbers of small-scale methamphetamine labs all over the United States, commonly located in rural, suburban, or low-income areas. The meth problem is most prevalent in suburban and rural areas of the Southwest and Midwest. The Indiana state police found 1,260 labs in 2003, compared to just 6 in 1995.

Methamphetamine is a potent central nervous system stimulant that affects the brain by acting on the mechanisms responsible for regulating a class of neurotransmitters known as the biogenic amines or monoamine neurotransmitters. As in most neurotransmitter chemistry, its effects are adapted by the affected neurons by a decrease in the production of the neurotransmitters being blocked from re-uptake, leading to the tolerance and withdrawal effect. The acute effects of the drug closely resemble the physiological and psychological effects of the fight-or-flight response including increased heart rate and blood pressure, vasoconstriction, pupil dilation, bronchial dilation and increased blood sugar. The person who ingests meth will experience an increased focus and mental alertness and the elimination of the subjective effects of fatigue as well as a decrease in appetite. Many of these effects are broadly interpreted as euphoria or a sense of well-being, intelligence and power

The acute effects decline as the brain chemistry starts to adapt to the chemical conditions and as the body metabolizes the chemical, leading to a rapid loss of the initial effect and a significant rebound effect. Many users then compensate by administering more of the drug to maintain their current state of euphoria and alertness. This process can be repeated many times, often leading to the user remaining awake for days, after which secondary sleep deprivation effects manifest in the user. Classic sleep deprivation effects include irritability, blurred vision, memory lapses, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations, nausea, and (in extreme cases) death. After prolonged use, the meth user will begin to become irritable, most likely due to lack of sleep. Side effects include twitching, "jitteriness", repetitive behavior (known as "tweaking"), and jaw clenching or teeth grinding. It has been noted anecdotally that methamphetamine addicts lose their teeth abnormally fast; this may be due to the jaw clenching, although heavy meth users also tend to neglect personal hygiene, such as brushing teeth. Methamphetamine is an addictive drug. While withdrawal symptoms are less pronounced than alcohol or opiates (such as heroin), they are nonetheless physiological in nature and include seizures, narcolepsy, and stroke.

Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)



Picture of Methamphetamine

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Picture of Methamphetamine


Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for November 2005 )