THE NIGHTMARE OF METH
If it hasn’t already arrived in your community, it will be there soon: the nightmare of addiction to methamphetamine. Supplanting cocaine in drug use, it’s much easier and cheaper to make than coke. A "meth lab" requires only simple equipment like bottles and tubing, easily acquired ingredients, and can be set up in a small space in most any building.
Not only is it cheaper than coke, the high the addict gets from meth is far more intense – and thus far more addictive. Meth users get a sudden rush of pleasure lasting several minutes, followed by a euphoric high that continues for up to 12 hours. It leaves cocaine in the dust.
Both cocaine and meth cause the excessive release of the brain chemical or neurotransmitter that controls pleasure called dopamine. Having sex raises dopamine levels in the brain to about 200 units. Cocaine spikes dopamine levels to 350 units. Methamphetamine spikes at 1,250 – more than 12 times the base level of 100.
As Dr. Richard Rawson, associate director of Integrated Substance Abuse Programs at the UCLA Medical School, notes, "Methamphetamine produces the mother of all dopamine releases."
Dopamine, like all neurotransmitters, is released from vesicles at the ends of the brain’s neurons and travels across the tiny gap (a synapse) between the neurons to receptor cells on the next neuron. It’s like a lock and a key. After transferring the neural message to the receptor, the dopamine is reused in a "re-uptake" cycle.
Both cocaine and meth block this re-uptake cycle so more dopamine is used up, and used faster. That’s why addicts of both suffer a depressive crash when all the dopamine is gone.
There’s also an enzyme called monoamine oxidase that mops up any extra dopamine left over in the synapse by oxidizing it. This enzyme really doesn’t like meth and oxidizes it like crazy, producing a highly reactive molecule called a free radical. These free radicals are so reactive that they bind to and destroy the dopamine receptor sites.
As this process continues, meth becomes the only thing capable of giving the addict any enjoyment. Nothing else matters, so all morals are jettisoned. A meth addict will sell her daughter into prostitution or grandmother into slavery to acquire the next hit.
The end result of prolonged meth addiction is catastrophic brain damage. With the brain’s dopamine receptor sites burnt out, there’s nothing for dopamine to latch onto and no pleasure messages are delivered. The addict becomes physiologically incapable of experiencing either pleasure or motivation.
The neurological term for his or her condition is anhedonic, which literally means "no fun."
In the meantime, since meth causes free radical damage to the skin (far more than smoking or sunbathing), the addict ages dramatically, about 10 times normal. An 18 year-old prom queen after two years of meth use will look 40 years old.
It takes on average two to three years after meth sobriety for the brain to even partially regenerate the burnt-out dopamine receptors. Certain cognitive abilities may remain permanently damaged. Former meth users years later still show severe memory impairment and the lack of motor coordination similar to the "shakes" of Parkinson’s sufferers.
If you have any kids, or have friends with kids, I urge you to share this information with them.
Explain that it is the speed with which a drug rises in the brain that makes it addictive. No one becomes addicted to chewing coca leaves, for example, because the coca drug gets into the brain slowly. (That’s why nicotine patches are not addictive, and get people off their tobacco addiction).
Snorting purified coca (cocaine hydrochloride) gets it into the brain much faster, and smoking free base cocaine crystals (crack) even faster, so both become extremely addictive. So it is with meth.
Swallowing methamphetamine hydrochloride or "speed" will speed you up with unpleasant side effects but it’s only mildly addictive. Injecting it is vastly more addictive (not to mention the hyper-risk of AIDs with shared needles). Even more so is smoking free base meth crystals, crystal meth or "ice", the meth version of crack cocaine.
It’s the epidemic of crystal meth that’s sweeping through communities across the country and enticing kids.
Smoking crystal meth is monumentally addictive. There is no treatment or cure. Kicking it requires living in Withdrawal Hell. Smoking crystal meth will damage one’s brain in a horrible way. Just have your kids remember the one word of anhedonia, that meth means no fun – forever.
That way you can help protect your community from the Nightmare of Meth.