..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
That's why we've put together
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.
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"
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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,
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
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
..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
(dextroamphetamine), and Ritalin® (methylphenidate) are used
by millions of Americans every day to treat attention-deficit
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,
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.