bar Title: Crystal Meth | Tweak's Mystique
Author: Jim Parker
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 2011
Catalog Number: 101

..Is faster better?

A basic premise in America is that faster is better. From instant energy drinks to instant messaging, speed dialing to speed dating, if there's a way to do something faster, we'll figure out how to do it, and not miss a beat, or a coffee break, in the bargain.

That's a big reason why stimulant drugs hold so much fascination for us all.

Speed seems as natural as mom and apple pie -- maybe even more so, since today mom is on a diet and the only apple pie in town is made by machines.

But speedy drugs aren't Mom's apple pie, not by a long shot. They're a complex group of chemicals with one thing in common: They can cause all sorts of problems for people who take them -- and all kinds of people are taking them these days.

And not only are more people using speed, they're also using its most hypercharged form -- crystal meth -- and some are running into problems they never expected.

That's why we've put together this pamphlet.

Because sometimes what you don't know can hurt you. And that's true times two when what you don't know about is speed. And it's truer, still, when the speed you don't know about is crystal meth.

..Fast facts

Before we say much about crystal and "real" types of speed, though, we'll start by lumping together all stimulants -- controlled substances and everyday chemicals like caffeine -- under the general classification of "real" speed.

If that sounds wierd to you, we should explain that a basic property shared by all stimulants -- prescription diet pills, over-the-counter stay-awake tablets, caffeinated colas or the overpriced Mocha Latté grande at the local Starbucks -- is their ability to amp up the action of neurons in the central nervous system.

They all do it in similar ways, too.

In fact, stimulants differ only to the degree that they act in the brain and the extent to which they affect behavior -- increasing alertness and confidence (or anxiety), decreasing appetite and fatigue.

And while it's hard to find fault with wanting to eat less and stay awake more, wanting to do either behind a hit or two of prescription speed or crystal meth can be a bigger problem than being overweight or tired. Way bigger.  

..Crystal myths

The most potent form of speed available -- with or without a prescription -- is methamphetamine, A.K.A. crystal, crank, tweak, go-fast, and dozens of other names.

In medicine, it comes in tablet form, as the prescription drug, Desoxyn®.

More often, though, it's cooked in makeshift labs and sold on the street as a powder, which is injected, snorted, or swallowed. A smokeable form of crystal, called "ice," is also used.

Widely available in the 1960's, crystal faded in the '70s, as controls were tightened on legal production, which reduced its diversion onto the black market.

But in the early '90s, crystal made an amazing comeback. And it's been back in a big way ever since.

The result? Crystal became a hot new high to a new generation of users too young to know firsthand -- or to have heard secondhand -- about the downside of uppers.

And what a downside they have. Risks run so high because the drug works so well at overamping the central nervous system and zapping feelings of hunger and fatigue.

A common result is the sort of physical stress that follows any extreme exertion - like, say, bridge jumping, or skydiving.

But instead of giving the old body/mind a chance to chill between jumps (like any self-respecting bungie-jumping skydiver would do), amphetamine users can extend "runs" for days or weeks, without food or rest, putting impossible demands on their bodies and brains.

For needle users, add in the hazards that come with injecting any drug. And for ice smokers, multiply it all by the still largely-unknown risk factor of exposing lung tissue to vaporized meth crystals.

That's why it's not a big mystery that you don't run into many old speed freaks in the real world.

They don't live long enough to get old.

..A.K.A. 'crank'

Know the big difference between crystal and crank?

"Crystal" has seven letters, "crank" only has five.

Once used to distinguish down-and-dirty bootleg meth from its crystal-clean sibling, "crank" has become a generic term for all forms of speed. And that includes the tablets and capsules that find their way out of the local pharmacy and onto the street.

At this point, we'll add other speedy drugs to the mix, including non-amphetamine prescription stimulants (like Ritalin® and phentermine), and such non-crystal forms of street speed as "white cross," and "black beauties."

Effects match up, in most ways, to the effects of crystal. Dangers are similar, too, although oral use carries fewer short-term risks, since the risk of lung or injection-site damage and overdose is reduced or eliminated.

Still, a speed habit of any kind is a hazardous hobby for a lot of reasons, including simple wear and tear on the body and mind.

In a lot of ways, the human body is like a Timex watch -- built to take a licking and keep on ticking. Still, we aren't exactly indestructible. And speed, more than any other drug group, pushes the mind and body faster and further than either was meant to go.

The long-term physical toll can be massive, including any or all of the following:

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
  • Lowered resistance to disease.
  • Organ damage (particularly to the lungs, liver, and kidneys) after long-term use.

And as if the physical hazards aren't bad enough, there's a ton of mind-and-mood problems that speed can bring on, or worsen. Examples:

  • Anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue.
  • Delusions. (Thinking you're being watched by enemies or police, for example -- unless you are being watched by the police, which is even worse.)
  • Toxic psychosis after prolonged, heavy use.

And that's still only part of the story, because amphetamines also cause a serious form of dependency, which means that giving up speed can be a difficult process.

One reason why is that ex-users get depressed. Life without Mr. Crystal/Crank/Tweak/Go-Fast goosing up the juice in the brain can seem dull, indeed, to a suddenly-straight ex-speed freak.

..Other speedy stuff

Because of their risks, you might think that amphetamines would have disappeared as medical drugs by now. But you'd be wrong.

Because prescription speed is back on the medical beat big time, and getting bigger all the time.

Dexedrine®, Adderall® (dextroamphetamine), and Ritalin® (methylphenidate) are used by millions of Americans every day to treat attention-deficit disorder.

Others take a prescription appetite suppressant, phentermine, which used to form half of the diet-drug duo, "fen-phen." (The other half, fenfluramine, was pulled off the market in 1997, due to health risks linked to it.) Now phentermine's a solo act.

Taken at prescribed doses, Ritalin, Dexedrine, and phentermine usually aren't dangerous. Still, they're real forms of speed, too, and deserve all the respect you can give them.

And don't forget over-the-counter energy drinks, which look and act (vaguely) like amphetamines, but contain only caffeine and another legal stimulant, guarana.

Still, just because the drinks are legal doesn't mean they're safe. They're not --not always, anyway.

Most contain giga-jolts of caffeine (up to 500 mg per can), which can cause problems (even stroke or cardiac arrest) when overused - or used at all by people who are hypersensitive to individual ingredients.


[Click for closer look at chart.]

..Running on empty

The speed scene has undergone major changes over the past few years with the resurgence of meth and a renewed interest in stimulants as a medical treatment for obesity and attention-deficit disorder.

Not only that, but the definition of what speed is and what it isn't has been subject to revision as lookalikes and act-alikes and legal herbal stimulants have come and gone and come around again.

But one thing hasn't changed and isn't likely to. That's the idea that over-amping on speed -- any type of speed -- is a pretty risky way to live your life.

And while it continues to be stylish to look like you've never lusted after a leftover, and fatiguelessness might rank right alongside cleanliness and godliness in your pantheon of personal values, you might also want to rethink your priorities if you think you need speed to put you where you want to be.

Because one other fact about speed that hasn't changed over the years is still the most important fact of all: Speed kills.

And what it doesn't kill, it burns out. Pass it on.

..Sidebar | Getting Unstrung Out: How to Get Off Speed

What if your interest in speed goes beyond simple curiosity? What if you already have a problem -- or someone you care about has a problem? Begin by admitting the truth. It's hard to overcome anything until you recognize it for what it is. Then do something about it -- or help the other person do something: Namely, quit.

Since the main pull amphetamines have on users is psychological, the biggest barrier you'll need to overcome is yourself. Here are two ways around common speed-recovery pitfalls:

Depression. Expect to feel more down than up, especially during the first few weeks or months. Just don't let depression surprise you or beat you. Recognize funky feelings for what they are -- the effects of withdrawal -- and keep on staying straight.

Anxiety. When you look at your life, you may find more to be bummed than buzzed about. Your body may carry some scars of speed use, either from disease or from general disrepair. Your head may be worse. Don't panic. The body and mind have a remarkable ability to heal themselves -- especially if you help them along.

So do what you have to do to pull yourself back together. Find another way to generate the energy and excitement that you used to get from speed. See a doctor if you suspect health problems, and visit a treatment program if you think you can't do it alone. But do it -- and keep it done.

And do it now. It's never going to get easier than it already is. And, sometimes, it gets a whole lot worse. 

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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