History of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine has existed as a drug since the late 1800s. Below is a brief historical timetable for meth.33,38,42

  • 1887 – German scientist first makes amphetamine.
  • 1919 – A more potent methamphetamine (when compared to amphetamine, more of methamphetamine gets into the brain, making methamphetamine more potent) is synthesized in Japan and used to treat asthma, schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, alcoholism and narcolepsy.
  • 1940s-1950s – During WWII, American, British and German soldiers use meth to fight fatigue and depression; Japanese Kamikaze pilots use meth as well; truck drivers use it during long drives; students use it to stay awake; and women try it for weight control and to meet the demands of being a wife, mother and employee. Organized-crime syndicate Yakuza, in Japan, takes advantage of meth surplus after the war and begins distribution of meth.
  • 1960s – Lack of public attention allows meth abuse to grow. Outlaw biker gangs become “cookers” of meth as it becomes a part of the drug culture. The term ‘crank’ is used because bikers would hide the drug in the crank case of their motorcycles. As IV meth use spreads through the ‘speed freak’ subculture, violent and erratic behavior is seen among abusers and prompts medical authorities to more closely regulate its use.
  • 1970s – Problems with use/abuse lead to federal legislation that restricts legal production, leading to an increase in illegal production. Most of the labs were in western and southwestern states because the chemicals used in meth production are easily obtained from Mexico. Labs were frequently in rural areas to avoid detection of the noxious fumes emitted during production.
  • 1980s – A purer and smokeable form of meth appears in Hawaii.
  • 1990s – New recipes make meth easier to make and more potent. Meth use begins to move to Midwestern states. Lawmakers take an increased interest in stopping the spread of meth manufacture and use.
  • 2000-2004 – Rural labs increase, and Oklahoma is the first state to limit access to raw materials.
  • 2005 – The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act sets limits on the sale of certain meth ingredients and requires that purchases be recorded. Products are placed behind the counter and purchaser must show identification.
  • 2007 – The Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act directs the EPA to establish voluntary guidelines for cleanup of former meth labs.
  • 2008 – A 4-day Summit was held by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to focus on the unique needs of 3 critically affected populations: justice-involved populations; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals; and women.
  • 2011-2012 – News coverage may focus on prescription drug abuse but first time meth user numbers are rising, meth labs are reemerging and meth seized at the Mexican border is at a 5-year high.
  • 2012-present – Seizure data, law enforcement reporting and localized treatment information all indicate meth trafficking and abuse continues to increase throughout the nation. Liquid meth trafficking is a challenge for law enforcement because of its ease of concealment. Heroin reemerges as prescription drug abuse is restricted.