A History of Methamphetamine in the United States | The Ranch

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A History of Methamphetamine in the United States

January 3, 2018 Substance Abuse
crystal meth

Methamphetamine addiction has a long, sordid history in the United States. It has gone from being viewed as a miracle medication to being despised as one of the most dangerous drugs on the streets today. Commonly known as “meth,” this drug has affected multiple generations of Americans through U.S. history.

The Early Years

The history of methamphetamine actually starts with a similar chemical: amphetamine. Amphetamine was created in 1887 and wasn’t categorized as a stimulant until much later. In 1919, methamphetamine–a derivative of amphetamine that has a much bigger impact on the central nervous system–was discovered.

In the early 1940s, both amphetamine and methamphetamine were used to treat common health disorders, including nasal congestion, depression, obesity, narcolepsy, alcoholism, and what is now known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). During World War II, German, Japanese and American soldiers were given amphetamine to help them stay alert and awake on the battlefield.

After the war, civilians began using and abusing both amphetamine and methamphetamine for the drugs’ euphoric, energizing and weight-loss effects. During the 1950s, doctors prescribed amphetamine and methamphetamine to patients as a diet aid, an anti-depressant and a narcolepsy treatment. This led to countless Americans developing a methamphetamine addiction that was further fueled by the idea that it was safe to use meth because it had been prescribed by a physician.

Building a Bad Reputation

By the 1970s, thousands of Americans had discovered the amazing “benefits” of methamphetamine, which included profound weight loss and dramatic energy boosts. However, after the initial high wore off, meth users suffered terrible withdrawal symptoms and health problems.

Thankfully, American physicians and law enforcement personnel began noticing that meth wasn’t as safe as once thought. Injectable methamphetamine use was spreading at that time and the ramifications were staggering. Finally, in 1970, methamphetamine was made illegal by the U.S. government.

Modern Meth

Despite the fact that meth is illegal in the U.S., the country continues to be plagued with methamphetamine addiction. During the 1970s and 1980s, motorcycle gangs controlled the vast majority of methamphetamine production and distribution throughout the country. Methamphetamine quickly became a cheaper recreational drug alternative to expensive cocaine, which was seen as a luxury drug. Americans in rural communities began using and abusing meth, contributing significantly to the problematic methamphetamine addiction problem that already existed in urban areas.

By the 1990s, many organized crime groups started recognizing the business potential in selling methamphetamine. Mexican drug cartels began setting up large-scale meth labs in California in order to feed the increasing demand for the drug. As meth grew in popularity, many small-time drug users and dealers began starting up meth production operations in their own home kitchens or backyards.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that government and law enforcement organizations began collecting data on the prevalence of methamphetamine addiction. In 1999, 0.2% to 0.3% of Americans used methamphetamine each month. As of 2015, 0.9% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25, and 0.6% of Americans over the age of 26 reported using meth in the past year. It is estimated that approximately 5.4% of the American population over the age of 12 has tried meth at least once in their lives.

Despite the continued battle against methamphetamine, meth addiction is a growing and serious problem in the United States. While law enforcement agencies and governmental organizations strive to eradicate methamphetamine from American households, it is up to each individual citizen to do his or her part to fight meth addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with methamphetamine addiction, get help today.



“History of Methamphetamine” – Drug-Free World

“Methamphetamine Facts” – Drug Policy Alliance

“Methamphetamine” – National Institute on Drug Abuse

“Amphetamines” – University of Maryland: Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR)

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