Methamphetamine: Built for Speed?Methamphetamine has reclaimed a place in the lexicon of “party” drugs. Hailed bynocturnal adventurers, condemned by raver idealists, is speed a sleepless dreamor an addictive nightmare?by Brian OttoHere at the end of the millennium, the pace of modern life seems fleeting — awhirl of minutes, hours and days. In dealing with the changes, humans haveequipped themselves with the tools to move faster, more efficiently.
At the sametime a dependence for the marketing, high-speed transportation and pharmacologyof this modern age has evolved. In a race to outdo ourselves, we have moveddangerously 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 sleeplessgeneration. An age of society’s children weaned on the ideals of high-speedcommunication and accelerated culture has prided itself in mastering many of thefacets of human existence — doing more, sleeping less.
The machines of this agehave in a way enabled us to create a 24-hour lifestyle. We have pushed thelimits of the modern world further — ATMs, high-speed modems, smart bombs andbullet trains. However, the limitations of human existence, like sleep, maystill provide the stumbling block for infinite realization. That is, withoutchemical aid.In many ways, capitalism fuels the idea.
Our society is based upon the massconsumption of these substances. Cultural ideals, while seemingly benevolent as”Have a Coke and a smile” have sold the link to chemical substances likecaffeine and nicotine to “the good life.” Today, stimulants are the bedrock forconsumer culture. For our generation, this appeal was heightened by raising thestakes in the ’80s on what it meant to have fun.
Late night clubs, high speed music and 24-hour lifestyles brought the specter ofdrugs to the fold as a necessity for being able to attain more. Leaps away fromthe psychedelics of the ’60s, in the ’80s these stimulant drugs became tools –utilitarian devices to gain wealth, intelligence and prestige. Sleep became abarrier for success. Dreams were the frivolous luxuries of childhood.Raves, founded equally in the post-conservative underground late-’80s and thechaotic early-’90s, are part of the pastiche that has consequently become moredream-like, more unreal and still somehow manageable. The hyperreality of todaygoes hand in hand with the drugs being administered.It’s 6 a.
m. Around the speaker bins are small packs of animated dancers grindingtheir 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 arethe smiles of midnight, replaced by the blank, vacant stare of sleepless dreams.They have a name in the rave community, they are “tweakers.” “Tweaking,” thecommon name for sniffing lines of speed, the drug methamphetamine, (popular forits availability and price) has somehow replaced MDMA and LSD as the perfectrave drug, allowing users the clear head and stamina to keep dancing long aftertheir bodies have gone to sleep.A prominent opinion during the aftermath of the Los Angeles Summer of Love wasthat speed killed the rave scene.
Where speed had been seen in every scene frommetal to the punk scene, for some reason it was shocking for some to seemethamphetamine take hold, even though MDMA (an amphetamine-like substance) hadbeen circulating for years. Some likened the rise to the quash of youngnewcomers, some equated it with the greed of drug dealers. Judging from today’sroster 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 withspeed’s rise in popularity. Some were casualties themselves of the drug’saddictive 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 pharmaceuticalcompany Smith Kline & French as the nasal inhaler, Benzedrine, in 1932.(Amphetamine is widely known as a bronchio dialator, allowing asthmatics tobreathe more freely.) A probable direct reaction to the Depression andProhibition, 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 andsoak 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 forinjection. Also smoking the drug creates a similar rush.
It is still legallyproduced in the U.S., most often prescribed for weight loss, sold under thetrade name Desoxyn. As the name “speed” suggests, amphetamines elevate mood,heighten endurance and eliminate fatigue, explaining the drug’s popularity withthe military. Hitler was supposedly injected with methamphetamine.Speed rose to popularity in California, home of many of the largest meth labs inthe country, riding on the back of biker gangs. Bikers have been historicallyblamed for introducing the drug into the psychedelic ’60s, subsequently bringingdown a whole Summer of Love with violence and angst.
Since then, speed has beengiven a bad rap. It has been called a trailer park drug for decades, due to thefact that it can be cooked up so cheaply and easily. It’s the drug of choice forlong-distance truckers and college students pulling all-nighters. Over thecounter ephedrine, or “white crosses,” has taken the place of pharmaceuticalamphetamine 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 (HClpowder), whereas “crystal” usually refers to the free-base form ofmethamphetamine. Another form “Ice,” a higher-grade, purer form of crystal methis smoked, a single hit creates a high that lasts for hours and several hits canwire a user for days.
However, its high price prevents it from taking hold. Agram of “ice” commands about $5,000 on the street.Speed came to the rave scene in 1992.
Theory: when the parties in ’92 started toget 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 anoption, speed took over as an easier to get and cheaper alternative. Now, thestandard 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 methamphetaminestructure. However, each affects a far different region of the brain resultingin different psychological effects. Ecstasy primarily effects serotonin in thebrain — the center for self-satisfaction and emotional systems. Speed affectsdopamine primarily, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward.
(Oddly,alcohol also affects a dopamine center.) Often, MDMA is “cut” with speed tolower the street price of the drug, thus changing the overall effect. The twoare similar in chemical makeup but one cannot be made from the other.
Slightlychanging the chemical makeup produces a wholly different effect in the humanbrain. While both have addictive potential, speed, because of its dopamine ties,is much more profoundly addicting. Qualitatively, speed and ecstasy supposedlygive 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 theideal. What’s unusual, given the qualitative similarities between the two, arethe differing opinions about speed. While many admit openly to taking MDMA, theywill not condone or even accept speed as a “valid” recreational drug. The stigmathat goes with “tweaking” can be quite severe.”Speed is evil,” says Dominic.
“I have seen more people’s lives twisted up offthat drug than anything else in the world. I was first introduced to it aboutfive years ago by a girl I was dating. I basically watched her use of it turnfrom an occasional party thing to basically the sustenance of her life. Her bodywithered way, and everything she did revolved around speed.””Speed does not belong in the underground scene,” he continues.
“Something thatis so damn negative could never co-exist with the positive ideals that we try topromote. If you want to get amped, feel energy and stay up all night, tryalternatives — using speed just to stay up is a total cop out.” However, hisopinion is that ecstasy has opposite effects and could actually save the ravescene. “MDMA induces a sense of spiritual enlightenment, happiness, andsometimes social understanding, something that could never be achieved byshoving a few rails of driveway cleaner up your nose.
“”I’m all for consciousness expansion, even if by chemical means,” says anothercritic, Michael. “Preferably organic chemistry. The problem is major parts ofthe scene moved away from enlightenment, transcendence and betterment of theself 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 drugsaround,” he says “Whenever I get tired or wish I had more energy, I always thinkhow nice it would be to have some speed. In that respect, I am addicted, becauseit is definitely a part of my thought pattern now. And I haven’t done speed forover 3 weeks now.
” Even though his experiences have not all been good, he isstill connected to the drug.”Amphetamines, in my mind are not evil,” says Velour, hoping to defend the drugagainst his critical peers. “They are simple chemicals, if there is anythingevil it is the society we live in which dictates that they are illegal and thusmakes them harder to get.””I will admit one thing, it is very addictive,” he goes on.
“Once you take it afew times, you will continue to think about it after you stop. I haven’t donespeed for a month now and still some days will go by where I have only had 3 or4 hours sleep, and I think to myself, ‘You know, speed would really help outright now.’ However, that is what makes me a more responsible user. I not onlyrealize my desire for speed and other amphetamines and I curb the habit.” Hefeels that his ability to control his habit is more powerful than his lust forit. “Many of my friends are long time users of speed. However, by no means havethey ruined their lives.
“DJ Velour believes that the rave community can co-exist with a drug likemethamphetamine. He also, among others, mentions speed’s many differentappearances that make for different psychological outcomes. “Speed and otherstimulants can be a positive part of a raving community. However, just like anyother drug it depends upon the person taking it and the purity/mixture of thedrug. As strange as this may sound, different speeds can evoke differentemotions.
They not only stimulate latent emotions, increasing their strength,but they can also enforce emotions much in the way ecstasy can. I have had somevery “happy” speed that made me feel as happy as when I was on X. On the flipside 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 thatthrive beneath the surface of the Cleaver’s USA, no subculture seems aspervasive 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 timeor 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 afew are dragged off at 6:00 a.m.
Friday morning by blue windbreakers with yellowwriting.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 theperiphery for decades, avoiding the felonies, gunshots, big ripoffs, andcrippling motorcycle accidents. Other than luck, the key to staying alive isknowing when to take a step back, on your own, and avoid the biggest bear-trapin 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 sleepfor a week… no drug or state of mind is worth dying for, killing for, or doinghard 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 drinkingthe stuff since Jr. High School as my get me up and go thing. But therelationship with amphetamines starts six or seven years ago with poppers(ephedrine, mini-thins).
I started taking them to stay awake in college tofinish papers and the like.””Things got really serious when I started doing CAT, a local low-grade speedthat was in vogue about six years ago.” CAT, or methacathinone, is a popularsubstance made from common household chemicals like drain-cleaner, Epsom saltsand battery acid. “I realized how bad my problem was when right around the timethe land war in Iraq began. I had stayed up for days on end, watching the planesbomb the Iraqis. It’s the only drug I’ve done at work.
To this day what was asix month period still seems to me to be several weeks. It’s also the only drugI’ve done where my peers at work noticed mood swings, irritability, andsleeplessness. The CAT I knew dearly also tweaked me on methamphetamine when theCAT seemed to loose its luster.
” CAT is notorious for its hardcore addictivepotential, apparently strong enough to hook users after just one sample.”Even after I kicked the CAT habit, I would usually indulge my speed addictionby crushing up mini-thins and snorting them. This continued for about anotheryear. Most recently (for about a year) I moved to MDMA as the speed kick.
Atfirst I did it about once a month, but that has fallen off to a much lessfrequent, but still regular usage.””What caught me about speed, and what catches me now, is the feeling ofinvulnerability. 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 convenientway 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 themorning, 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 withdrugs. But I think more people than not overestimate their ability to handledrugs. Drugs can be fun, but they also tend to get in the way of being afunctional human being with multi-dimensional interests, as opposed to being afull-time club kid, which gets you nowhere fast.
“For “Pat,” the drug poses a serious paradox. He was prescribed methamphetaminefor 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 improvemy attention span.
“”It can be a transcendental drug if you do enough. I’ve had really intensethought about observations of myself, or new ideas about what I’d like to dowith my music, or other creative thoughts. This occurs with other psychedelicdrugs that I’ve done.” Still, he describes the typical problem with drugs likespeed. “Speed is funny. You think you’ve got it under control when you first doit because it’s usually so nasty on the sinuses and your body that you don’tever 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 manyonly attribute to meth. “I like speed just fine,” says Benboy. “But I have seenmany speed freaks go out like that. And I’ve seen a few ‘E’ freaks buy the farmtoo, even though I do think E is much safer).
But a drug, whether it’sstrychnine, THC, caffeine or Prozac, is nothing more than an inert substance; asdangerous as a head of lettuce in itself. It’s what you do with it that makes adifference. But the difference between jonesing for a sugar fix and a speed fixis only partially chemical and physiological.
Most of it is social.” The drugitself is not the problem, it’s the setting involved. The availability and themotive 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 problemsthat had been bugging me for months,” says an anonymous post to one of the worldwide web’s drug archives. “This stuff makes your brain work at 100% efficiencyand doubles processor speed. It makes you feel (and probably actually does) likeyour IQ jumped quite a bit.” According to some medical journals, methamphetaminedoes produce slight improvements in mental acuity, though performance of only”simple mental tasks” is improved, although the amount of errors is notnecessarily decreased.Still many would attribute “wonder drug” status to meth, enabling them to getmore done without sleep. Students, hackers and late-night workers rely on thedrug to keep them awake.
“Sleep will never even occur to you,” the postcontinues. “Do two hits in the morning before work, and you will never miss thesleep from the night before. As a matter of fact, you will feel better than ifyou 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 thefirst ether gasp and locking ourselves in the closet. A twisted wisdom creepsinto those of us who manage to survive, a sort of collective unconsciousness, anunspoken Crankster ideology:It’s time to get some sleep when:You’re out of crankYour face is bouncing off the tableYour veins have completely disappeared beneath pasty goose fleshYour shoes don’t fit anymore24 simultaneous projects have stalled for lack of floor space suddenlyeveryone is a copYou’ve just set yourself on fire, againYou’re nodding out…
into glassware15 minutes after shooting a 1/4gat stoplightsin mid-sentencein mid-shotin mid-fuck”(Speed Phreak)Speed was created for a future world where everything moves at a faster clip, anunsettling velocity. Seemingly synthesized as an accessory to a fast car, highspeed 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 forspeed.
The desire for future frontiers — high gloss veneers and space travel–is not inhuman, but the problem comes with the human limitation to handle theextremes of rocket travel or the side-effects of re-entry. Like a space capsulefalling 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 likechills, nervous twitching, sweats and exhaustion are prevalent. The “high”produced is a result of extra activation chemicals in the brain. “The so-calledstereotypic behavior in animals (compulsive gnawing, sniffing) is associatedwith dopamine release from reservoirs in neurons in the brain,” says MattPlunkett, an Organic Chemistry graduate student at U.C.
Berkeley. “The increasein motor activity involves the noradrenaline system. The drug mimics themolecule noradrenaline (norepinephrine) at the receptors for thisneurotransmitter. Hence your body acts as if there were more of it around.”Simply put, stimulants cause their effects by blocking re-uptake ofneurotransmitters at a pre-synaptic membrane. The cell secretes activationchemicals, but cannot re-absorb them in the presence of cocaine or speed. Theuser feels “wired,” full of energy, because their cells are receiving massivestimulation.
The more concentrated the drug is, the more intense the rush is,and the more damaging the effects. In worst case scenarios, heart attacks occurfrom over stimulation and energy depletion.The come down is a result of the chemical being released all at once, making youhigh, 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 methamphetamineargument involves addiction. According to several studies, criteria foraddiction includes: unsuccessful attempts to quit, persistent desire and craving,continued use despite knowledge of harm to oneself or others, taking the drug toavoid or relieve withdrawal. While the social definition for addiction isdebatable, the chemical and physical activity in the body is founded in one ofseveral compounds in the brain.
“Many drugs that are addictive, have primary ormajor effects on the dopamine system (nicotine, amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol,heroine),” says Plunkett. “Drugs that don’t have a major effect on dopaminegenerally aren’t ‘addictive’ in the same way — Marijuana, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin,etc. Although abuse potential is there, it doesn’t generate the same kind ofcraving. Dopamine is normally involved with pleasure and reward, among manyother 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 toget “high.” Psychosis, specific to methamphetamines usually sets in after a timewhich is said to include “suspicion, anxiety and auditory hallucination.” Thoughreportedly, much more acute are the changes in lifestyle and eventually inpersonality that manifest. Users exhibit an affective disorder and subtle changein psychological temperament. Apparently, these symptoms can last up to fiveyears.
Many who have witnessed the changes in habitual users report the shift toaggressive or non-affectionate behavior which may also be attributed tomethamphetamine. Also apparent is some nerve damage in habitual users (primarilycrystal smokers) — jaw clenching and facial ticks.However, how much can beattributed 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), theaddictive potential inherent in the drug, methamphetamine, taken nasally ranksover cocaine, caffeine and PCP (angel dust) in addictive qualities.
MDMA,marijuana, psilocybin and LSD ranked at least 50 points lower than meth on a 100point scale, nicotine being the highest above both crack and crystal meth. Talkof “addictive personalities” have recently been founded valid, involvingindividual physiology, psychology, social and economic pressures to suggest aperson’s vulnerability to drug dependency. Therefore, it does rely greatly onthe person when talking about their potential for abuse. Still, many theoristscontend that stimulants — lumping in caffeine, nicotine and amphetamines — bytheir 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, thereforelosing their natural link to the planet and to human-kind. He equates them withthe religious fundamentalism and beige fascism of the post-industrial, Westernworld — the center for ego-dominator culture. McKenna considers the naturalpsychedelics, psilocybin and even LSD, to be more intuitive and based upon thenatural human spirit.
“Dominator” drugs have been established and validated by “dominator culture,” aculture interested in the mass consumerism of these legitimate substances –sugar, nicotine, caffeine. He relates the emergence of drugs likemethamphetamine back to the institutionalized abuse of these substances. “Thehistory of commercial drug synergies — the way in which one drug has beencynically encouraged and used to support the introduction of others — over thepast five hundred years is not easy to contemplate,” he writes in his book Foodof the Gods.”The hypocrisy of dominator culture as it picks and chooses the truths andrealities that it finds comfortable,” he continues. Some drugs like alcohol andnicotine have long been legal and subsidized by dominator culture, however theirqualitative separation from drugs like cocaine or speed is still unclear.”These drugs are still at the depths of drug depravity especially consideringthe violent or illegal acts that the craving may induce because of theirillegal status, however tobacco addicts (smokers) might kill for their fix tooif they had to, but instead they simply walk out to a 7-Eleven and buycigarettes.
“While I am no proponent of speed or drug abuse, I have become glaringly aware ofthe hypocrisy prevalent in mainstream and underground culture regarding thelegitimation of certain drugs. When finger-pointing, it is important to rememberthe glass houses we all live in. Addiction is a problem, but the bigger problemis sweeping it into a closet, pretending it isn’t real, pretending that our ownaddictions 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, itcan also be abused and exploited to the point where the need for it besidessoothing a craving is the only point. And then, there is no point. Some mayargue that there is an aesthetic, a qualitative high, however, bymethamphetamine’s nature — as a refined, concentrated addictive substance — itonly perpetuates the cycle for needing more.
There is very little factual information about amphetamines and their dangersavailable to the lay person. Research on the subject, aside from medicaljournals, is virtually nill. There is however a great deal of dangerouspropaganda — hear-say, lies, rumors.
Misinformation sometimes is more dangerousthan no information and real answers are only found through communication.Many other drugs have been part of the rave community over the years — nitrousoxide, Special K (ketamine) and especially ecstasy (MDMA) but none haveexhibited the burn-out or addiction rate associated with methamphetamine. Whilemeth (or any drug) is an inert substance that we cannot attribute blame to, byits nature it has raised the question “Are we really built for speed?” It seemsthat the human body, while naturally resilient to much self-inflicted abuse, maynot be a reliable container for the soul at high speeds. Methamphetamine mayhave the ability to chemically fuel the ride, physically it may just prove thelimitations for human society.