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Methamphetamine Built For Speed Essay Research Paper

Methamphetamine: Built For Speed? Essay, Research Paper Methamphetamine: Built for Speed? Methamphetamine has reclaimed a place in the lexicon of “party” drugs. Hailed by

Methamphetamine: Built For Speed? Essay, Research Paper

Methamphetamine: Built for Speed?

Methamphetamine has reclaimed a place in the lexicon of “party” drugs. Hailed by

nocturnal adventurers, condemned by raver idealists, is speed a sleepless dream

or an addictive nightmare?

by Brian Otto

Here at the end of the millennium, the pace of modern life seems fleeting — a

whirl of minutes, hours and days. In dealing with the changes, humans have

equipped themselves with the tools to move faster, more efficiently. At the same

time a dependence for the marketing, high-speed transportation and pharmacology

of this modern age has evolved. In a race to outdo ourselves, we have moved

dangerously toward the fine line between extinction and evolution. Therefore,

the human capacity to handle the velocity becomes a fragile balance.

Our generation (see Gen X, 20-somethings) could be considered the sleepless

generation. An age of society’s children weaned on the ideals of high-speed

communication and accelerated culture has prided itself in mastering many of the

facets of human existence — doing more, sleeping less. The machines of this age

have in a way enabled us to create a 24-hour lifestyle. We have pushed the

limits of the modern world further — ATMs, high-speed modems, smart bombs and

bullet trains. However, the limitations of human existence, like sleep, may

still provide the stumbling block for infinite realization. That is, without

chemical aid.

In many ways, capitalism fuels the idea. Our society is based upon the mass

consumption of these substances. Cultural ideals, while seemingly benevolent as

“Have a Coke and a smile” have sold the link to chemical substances like

caffeine and nicotine to “the good life.” Today, stimulants are the bedrock for

consumer culture. For our generation, this appeal was heightened by raising the

stakes in the ’80s on what it meant to have fun.

Late night clubs, high speed music and 24-hour lifestyles brought the specter of

drugs to the fold as a necessity for being able to attain more. Leaps away from

the psychedelics of the ’60s, in the ’80s these stimulant drugs became tools –

utilitarian devices to gain wealth, intelligence and prestige. Sleep became a

barrier for success. Dreams were the frivolous luxuries of childhood.

Raves, founded equally in the post-conservative underground late-’80s and the

chaotic early-’90s, are part of the pastiche that has consequently become more

dream-like, more unreal and still somehow manageable. The hyperreality of today

goes hand in hand with the drugs being administered.

It’s 6 a.m. Around the speaker bins are small packs of animated dancers grinding

their feet into the floor and shaking their hands in front of them. The lookie-

loos and weekend warriors have long since gone home. Absent from their faces are

the smiles of midnight, replaced by the blank, vacant stare of sleepless dreams.

They have a name in the rave community, they are “tweakers.” “Tweaking,” the

common name for sniffing lines of speed, the drug methamphetamine, (popular for

its availability and price) has somehow replaced MDMA and LSD as the perfect

rave drug, allowing users the clear head and stamina to keep dancing long after

their bodies have gone to sleep.

A prominent opinion during the aftermath of the Los Angeles Summer of Love was

that speed killed the rave scene. Where speed had been seen in every scene from

metal to the punk scene, for some reason it was shocking for some to see

methamphetamine take hold, even though MDMA (an amphetamine-like substance) had

been circulating for years. Some likened the rise to the quash of young

newcomers, some equated it with the greed of drug dealers. Judging from today’s

roster of events throughout the nation, raves are still alive and well. However,

many old-schoolers have been turned off by the newbie vibe that came with

speed’s rise in popularity. Some were casualties themselves of the drug’s

addictive nature. Others say that speed alone is what fuels the rave scene,

keeping it from dying.

Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887. First popularized by pharmaceutical

company Smith Kline & French as the nasal inhaler, Benzedrine, in 1932.

(Amphetamine is widely known as a bronchio dialator, allowing asthmatics to

breathe more freely.) A probable direct reaction to the Depression and

Prohibition, the drug was used and abused by non-asthmatics looking for a buzz.

Jazz great Charlie “Bird” Parker would remove the inhaler’s Benzedrine strip and

soak it in his coffee.

Methamphetamine, more potent and easy to make, was discovered in Japan in 1919.

The crystalline powder was soluble in water, making it a perfect candidate for

injection. Also smoking the drug creates a similar rush. It is still legally

produced in the U.S., most often prescribed for weight loss, sold under the

trade name Desoxyn. As the name “speed” suggests, amphetamines elevate mood,

heighten endurance and eliminate fatigue, explaining the drug’s popularity with

the military. Hitler was supposedly injected with methamphetamine.

Speed rose to popularity in California, home of many of the largest meth labs in

the country, riding on the back of biker gangs. Bikers have been historically

blamed for introducing the drug into the psychedelic ’60s, subsequently bringing

down a whole Summer of Love with violence and angst. Since then, speed has been

given a bad rap. It has been called a trailer park drug for decades, due to the

fact that it can be cooked up so cheaply and easily. It’s the drug of choice for

long-distance truckers and college students pulling all-nighters. Over the

counter ephedrine, or “white crosses,” has taken the place of pharmaceutical

amphetamine as an easy-to-get alternative.

What is often misunderstood is the relationship between speed and crystal meth.

The common reference to speed in the rave scene is the methamphetamine salt (HCl

powder), whereas “crystal” usually refers to the free-base form of

methamphetamine. Another form “Ice,” a higher-grade, purer form of crystal meth

is smoked, a single hit creates a high that lasts for hours and several hits can

wire a user for days. However, its high price prevents it from taking hold. A

gram of “ice” commands about $5,000 on the street.

Speed came to the rave scene in 1992. Theory: when the parties in ‘92 started to

get really good, the police were cracking down more on the prime-time parties –

partiers needed to find late-night/early morning activities like after-hours.

Consequently, the price of taking 3-4 pills of ecstasy became too expensive an

option, speed took over as an easier to get and cheaper alternative. Now, the

standard street price in Los Angeles for a gram of speed is approximately $100,

where ecstasy sells for approx. $150 or more.

One major misconception is the link between methamphetamine and ecstasy [MDMA].

Ecstasy does not necessarily contain speed, yet both contain the methamphetamine

structure. However, each affects a far different region of the brain resulting

in different psychological effects. Ecstasy primarily effects serotonin in the

brain — the center for self-satisfaction and emotional systems. Speed affects

dopamine primarily, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward. (Oddly,

alcohol also affects a dopamine center.) Often, MDMA is “cut” with speed to

lower the street price of the drug, thus changing the overall effect. The two

are similar in chemical makeup but one cannot be made from the other. Slightly

changing the chemical makeup produces a wholly different effect in the human

brain. While both have addictive potential, speed, because of its dopamine ties,

is much more profoundly addicting. Qualitatively, speed and ecstasy supposedly

give off “glows” that are far different.

Ecstasy has a definite link to the rave scene. In some places it is synonymous.

Speed too has been linked to the rave scene — some say it was the death of the

ideal. What’s unusual, given the qualitative similarities between the two, are

the differing opinions about speed. While many admit openly to taking MDMA, they

will not condone or even accept speed as a “valid” recreational drug. The stigma

that goes with “tweaking” can be quite severe.

“Speed is evil,” says Dominic. “I have seen more people’s lives twisted up off

that drug than anything else in the world. I was first introduced to it about

five years ago by a girl I was dating. I basically watched her use of it turn

from an occasional party thing to basically the sustenance of her life. Her body

withered way, and everything she did revolved around speed.”

“Speed does not belong in the underground scene,” he continues. “Something that

is so damn negative could never co-exist with the positive ideals that we try to

promote. If you want to get amped, feel energy and stay up all night, try

alternatives — using speed just to stay up is a total cop out.” However, his

opinion is that ecstasy has opposite effects and could actually save the rave

scene. “[MDMA] induces a sense of spiritual enlightenment, happiness, and

sometimes social understanding, something that could never be achieved by

shoving a few rails of driveway cleaner up your nose.”

“I’m all for consciousness expansion, even if by chemical means,” says another

critic, Michael. “Preferably organic chemistry. The problem is major parts of

the scene moved away from enlightenment, transcendence and betterment of the

self through involvement in community”

A regular user of the drug is DJ Velour, 19, also finds some criticism for it.

“I believe that speed/crystal is one of the most psychologically addictive drugs

around,” he says “Whenever I get tired or wish I had more energy, I always think

how nice it would be to have some speed. In that respect, I am addicted, because

it is definitely a part of my thought pattern now. And I haven’t done speed for

over 3 weeks now.” Even though his experiences have not all been good, he is

still connected to the drug.

“Amphetamines, in my mind are not evil,” says Velour, hoping to defend the drug

against his critical peers. “They are simple chemicals, if there is anything

evil it is the society we live in which dictates that they are illegal and thus

makes them harder to get.”

“I will admit one thing, it is very addictive,” he goes on. “Once you take it a

few times, you will continue to think about it after you stop. I haven’t done

speed for a month now and still some days will go by where I have only had 3 or

4 hours sleep, and I think to myself, ‘You know, speed would really help out

right now.’ However, that is what makes me a more responsible user. I not only

realize my desire for speed and other amphetamines and I curb the habit.” He

feels that his ability to control his habit is more powerful than his lust for

it. “Many of my friends are long time users of speed. However, by no means have

they ruined their lives.”

DJ Velour believes that the rave community can co-exist with a drug like

methamphetamine. He also, among others, mentions speed’s many different

appearances that make for different psychological outcomes. “Speed and other

stimulants can be a positive part of a raving community. However, just like any

other drug it depends upon the person taking it and the purity/mixture of the

drug. As strange as this may sound, different speeds can evoke different

emotions. They not only stimulate latent emotions, increasing their strength,

but they can also enforce emotions much in the way ecstasy can. I have had some

very “happy” speed that made me feel as happy as when I was on X. On the flip

side I have had some lower grade speed that made me feel depressed.”

Speedlore and Methology

“Of all the separate realities, legal landscapes, and metabolic metropolis that

thrive beneath the surface of the Cleaver’s USA, no subculture seems as

pervasive or uniform as the nationwide-eyed, high dosage methamphetamine club.

This group is a tribute to the idea that some things stay the same across time

or space… the members come and go, some leave quietly, some go snitch, croak,

or disappear, some hang in there after their lights have gone out, and quite a

few are dragged off at 6:00 a.m. Friday morning by blue windbreakers with yellow

writing.

Getting in too deep is what we do, it’s who we are.

But despite all this, there are a few of us who have managed to hang around the

periphery for decades, avoiding the felonies, gunshots, big ripoffs, and

crippling motorcycle accidents. Other than luck, the key to staying alive is

knowing when to take a step back, on your own, and avoid the biggest bear-trap

in the speed circus: taking yourself too seriously…

Truly not giving a fuck is the only way to maintain perspective. In other words,

there are worse things that can happen, than having to lay down and go to sleep

for a week… no drug or state of mind is worth dying for, killing for, or doing

hard time for…” (Speed Phreak)

“My experience with speed-like substances really begins with coffee,” says Mark,

an addict that relates his experiences back to an early age. “I’ve been drinking

the stuff since Jr. High School as my get me up and go thing. But the

relationship with amphetamines starts six or seven years ago with poppers

(ephedrine, mini-thins). I started taking them to stay awake in college to

finish papers and the like.”

“Things got really serious when I started doing CAT, a local low-grade speed

that was in vogue about six years ago.” CAT, or methacathinone, is a popular

substance made from common household chemicals like drain-cleaner, Epsom salts

and battery acid. “I realized how bad my problem was when right around the time

the land war in Iraq began. I had stayed up for days on end, watching the planes

bomb the Iraqis. It’s the only drug I’ve done at work. To this day what was a

six month period still seems to me to be several weeks. It’s also the only drug

I’ve done where my peers at work noticed mood swings, irritability, and

sleeplessness. The CAT I knew dearly also tweaked me on methamphetamine when the

CAT seemed to loose its luster.” CAT is notorious for its hardcore addictive

potential, apparently strong enough to hook users after just one sample.

“Even after I kicked the CAT habit, I would usually indulge my speed addiction

by crushing up mini-thins and snorting them. This continued for about another

year. Most recently (for about a year) I moved to MDMA as the speed kick. At

first I did it about once a month, but that has fallen off to a much less

frequent, but still regular usage.”

“What caught me about speed, and what catches me now, is the feeling of

invulnerability. I think I get from speed what most cocaine users get from coke.

The feeling of being on top of the world. As a raver, speed is also a convenient

way to keep dancing long after your body has gone to sleep.”

Asked if the drug has improved his life, he answers, “What a joke. Improve?

Beyond the nominal gain of being able to dance until the wee hours of the

morning, it doesn’t. And productivity? Any gains are ephemeral and short-

-lasted.”

“I do in fact know some people who skate through life without problems with

drugs. But I think more people than not overestimate their ability to handle

drugs. Drugs can be fun, but they also tend to get in the way of being a

functional human being with multi-dimensional interests, as opposed to being a

full-time club kid, which gets you nowhere fast.”

For “Pat,” the drug poses a serious paradox. He was prescribed methamphetamine

for a learning disability and consequently produced a problem through abuse.

“I’m able to work with concentration on something far longer than a few hours,”

he says of meth. “I have Attention Deficit Disorder [and] speed seems to improve

my attention span.”

“It can be a transcendental drug if you do enough. I’ve had really intense

thought about observations of myself, or new ideas about what I’d like to do

with my music, or other creative thoughts. This occurs with other psychedelic

drugs that I’ve done.” Still, he describes the typical problem with drugs like

speed. “Speed is funny. You think you’ve got it under control when you first do

it because it’s usually so nasty on the sinuses and your body that you don’t

ever think you could get used to the feeling… [However], you do.”

Other users bring up the fact that MDMA also has an addiction factor, that many

only attribute to meth. “I like speed just fine,” says Benboy. “But I have seen

many speed freaks go out like that. And I’ve seen a few ‘E’ freaks buy the farm

too, even though I do think E is much safer). But a drug, whether it’s

strychnine, THC, caffeine or Prozac, is nothing more than an inert substance; as

dangerous as a head of lettuce in itself. It’s what you do with it that makes a

difference. But the difference between jonesing for a sugar fix and a speed fix

is only partially chemical and physiological. Most of it is social.” The drug

itself is not the problem, it’s the setting involved. The availability and the

motive to remain awake for long hours may compound the addiction of speed.

Still others attribute a great deal of positive qualities to methamphetamine.

“My brain was so clear when I used this, that I came up with answers to problems

that had been bugging me for months,” says an anonymous post to one of the world

wide web’s drug archives. “This stuff makes your brain work at 100% efficiency

and doubles processor speed. It makes you feel (and probably actually does) like

your IQ jumped quite a bit.” According to some medical journals, methamphetamine

does produce slight improvements in mental acuity, though performance of only

“simple mental tasks” is improved, although the amount of errors is not

necessarily decreased.

Still many would attribute “wonder drug” status to meth, enabling them to get

more done without sleep. Students, hackers and late-night workers rely on the

drug to keep them awake. “Sleep will never even occur to you,” the post

continues. “Do two hits in the morning before work, and you will never miss the

sleep from the night before. As a matter of fact, you will feel better than if

you had skipped the drug and slept all night!”

Speedlore and Methology:

“The American Speedfreak is not a lost soul. We know how to have fun between the

first ether gasp and locking ourselves in the closet. A twisted wisdom creeps

into those of us who manage to survive, a sort of collective unconsciousness, an

unspoken Crankster ideology:

It’s time to get some sleep when:

You’re out of crank

Your face is bouncing off the table

Your veins have completely disappeared beneath pasty goose flesh

Your shoes don’t fit anymore

24 simultaneous projects have stalled for lack of floor space suddenly

everyone is a cop

You’ve just set yourself on fire, again

You’re nodding out…

into glassware

15 minutes after shooting a 1/4g

at stoplights

in mid-sentence

in mid-shot

in mid-fuck”

(Speed Phreak)

Speed was created for a future world where everything moves at a faster clip, an

unsettling velocity. Seemingly synthesized as an accessory to a fast car, high

speed lifestyle, it has made mutations over the years to evolve for a new race.

The punk, cyber, industrial and rave scenes has exemplified their fetish for

speed. The desire for future frontiers — high gloss veneers and space travel–

is not inhuman, but the problem comes with the human limitation to handle the

extremes of rocket travel or the side-effects of re-entry. Like a space capsule

falling to earth, the destruction that comes from the come-down can be severe.

The come-down is what many users refer to as “the crash.” Usually symptoms like

chills, nervous twitching, sweats and exhaustion are prevalent. The “high”

produced is a result of extra activation chemicals in the brain. “The so-called

stereotypic behavior in animals (compulsive gnawing, sniffing) is associated

with dopamine release from reservoirs in neurons in the brain,” says Matt

Plunkett, an Organic Chemistry graduate student at U.C. Berkeley. “The increase

in motor activity involves the noradrenaline system. [The drug] mimics the

molecule noradrenaline (norepinephrine) at the receptors for this

neurotransmitter. Hence your body acts as if there were more of it around.”

Simply put, stimulants cause their effects by blocking re-uptake of

neurotransmitters at a pre-synaptic membrane. The cell secretes activation

chemicals, but cannot re-absorb them in the presence of cocaine or speed. The

user feels “wired,” full of energy, because their cells are receiving massive

stimulation. The more concentrated the drug is, the more intense the rush is,

and the more damaging the effects. In worst case scenarios, heart attacks occur

from over stimulation and energy depletion.

The come down is a result of the chemical being released all at once, making you

high, but then is subsequently degraded in the synapse. So once you come down,

there’s not as much as there normally should be, creating the “come-down blues.”

Prevalent discussion between users on either side of the methamphetamine

argument involves addiction. According to several studies, criteria for

addiction includes: unsuccessful attempts to quit, persistent desire and craving,

continued use despite knowledge of harm to oneself or others, taking the drug to

avoid or relieve withdrawal. While the social definition for addiction is

debatable, the chemical and physical activity in the body is founded in one of

several compounds in the brain. “Many drugs that are addictive, have primary or

major effects on the dopamine system (nicotine, amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol,

heroine),” says Plunkett. “Drugs that don’t have a major effect on dopamine

generally aren’t ‘addictive’ in the same way — Marijuana, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin,

etc. Although abuse potential is there, it doesn’t generate the same kind of

craving. Dopamine is normally involved with pleasure and reward, among many

other biochemical roles.”

With long-term abuse, the effects of methamphetamine become much more severe.

Tolerance is an issue, like in most drugs, where more of the drug is needed to

get “high.” Psychosis, specific to methamphetamines usually sets in after a time

which is said to include “suspicion, anxiety and auditory hallucination.” Though

reportedly, much more acute are the changes in lifestyle and eventually in

personality that manifest. Users exhibit an affective disorder and subtle change

in psychological temperament. Apparently, these symptoms can last up to five

years. Many who have witnessed the changes in habitual users report the shift to

aggressive or non-affectionate behavior which may also be attributed to

methamphetamine. Also apparent is some nerve damage in habitual users (primarily

crystal smokers) — jaw clenching and facial ticks.However, how much can be

attributed tot the drug and how much to sleep deprivation is unclear.

Meth is one of the most addictive drugs of today’s commonly used drugs.

According to one study that appeared in In Health magazine (Dec. 1990), the

addictive potential inherent in the drug, methamphetamine, taken nasally ranks

over cocaine, caffeine and PCP (angel dust) in addictive qualities. MDMA,

marijuana, psilocybin and LSD ranked at least 50 points lower than meth on a 100

point scale, nicotine being the highest above both crack and crystal meth. Talk

of “addictive personalities” have recently been founded valid, involving

individual physiology, psychology, social and economic pressures to suggest a

person’s vulnerability to drug dependency. Therefore, it does rely greatly on

the person when talking about their potential for abuse. Still, many theorists

contend that stimulants — lumping in caffeine, nicotine and amphetamines — by

their nature are addictive and must be reconsidered by society.

Ethnobotanist, drug theorist and author Terence McKenna calls the “dominator”

drugs — synthetic drugs that have been refined and concentrated, therefore

losing their natural link to the planet and to human-kind. He equates them with

the religious fundamentalism and beige fascism of the post-industrial, Western

world — the center for ego-dominator culture. McKenna considers the natural

psychedelics, psilocybin and even LSD, to be more intuitive and based upon the

natural human spirit.

“Dominator” drugs have been established and validated by “dominator culture,” a

culture interested in the mass consumerism of these legitimate substances –

sugar, nicotine, caffeine. He relates the emergence of drugs like

methamphetamine back to the institutionalized abuse of these substances. “The

history of commercial drug synergies — the way in which one drug has been

cynically encouraged and used to support the introduction of others — over the

past five hundred years is not easy to contemplate,” he writes in his book Food

of the Gods.

“The hypocrisy of dominator culture as it picks and chooses the truths and

realities that it finds comfortable,” he continues. Some drugs like alcohol and

nicotine have long been legal and subsidized by dominator culture, however their

qualitative separation from drugs like cocaine or speed is still unclear.

“[These drugs] are still at the depths of drug depravity especially considering

the violent or illegal acts that the craving may induce [because of their

illegal status], however tobacco addicts (smokers) might kill for their fix too

if they had to, but instead they simply walk out to a 7-Eleven and buy

cigarettes.”

While I am no proponent of speed or drug abuse, I have become glaringly aware of

the hypocrisy prevalent in mainstream and underground culture regarding the

legitimation of certain drugs. When finger-pointing, it is important to remember

the glass houses we all live in. Addiction is a problem, but the bigger problem

is sweeping it into a closet, pretending it isn’t real, pretending that our own

addictions are more manageable.

Speed is a potentially dangerous substance. It can be used as a tool, like late-

night coffee drinkers. It can also be used as a recreational drug. However, it

can also be abused and exploited to the point where the need for it besides

soothing a craving is the only point. And then, there is no point. Some may

argue that there is an aesthetic, a qualitative high, however, by

methamphetamine’s nature — as a refined, concentrated addictive substance — it

only perpetuates the cycle for needing more.

There is very little factual information about amphetamines and their dangers

available to the lay person. Research on the subject, aside from medical

journals, is virtually nill. There is however a great deal of dangerous

propaganda — hear-say, lies, rumors. Misinformation sometimes is more dangerous

than no information and real answers are only found through communication.

Many other drugs have been part of the rave community over the years — nitrous

oxide, Special K (ketamine) and especially ecstasy (MDMA) but none have

exhibited the burn-out or addiction rate associated with methamphetamine. While

meth (or any drug) is an inert substance that we cannot attribute blame to, by

its nature it has raised the question “Are we really built for speed?” It seems

that the human body, while naturally resilient to much self-inflicted abuse, may

not be a reliable container for the soul at high speeds. Methamphetamine may

have the ability to chemically fuel the ride, physically it may just prove the

limitations for human society.

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