History of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine was developed as a medical drug, but today it is far more common as an illegal drug with potentially addictive and deadly effects.This article explores the history of methamphetamine drugs for medical use, meth addiction, meth labs, and more.


History of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a type of amphetamine. Amphetamine was first developed in Germany in 1887 to help with respiratory problems, and methamphetamine was created in Japan in 1919. The medical use of the drug was slow to develop, but amphetamines came to be used as a stimulant to treat a number of conditions, including:

  • Colds
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Narcolepsy
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Fatigue
  • Obesity
  • Depression

Continuing with the history of methamphetamine, by the 1930s, amphetamines were available through prescriptions and then as over the counter tablets for anyone to buy without a prescription. During World War II, soldiers in Japan and America used amphetamines to help them stay alert, but the drug also had unintended side effects, such as increased irritability and aggression.

After World War II, Japan saw an epidemic of amphetamine abuse. The history of Methamphetamine shows that by the 1950s, legal amphetamines were being misused or abused by many different people in the US to give them more energy or help them stay awake or lose weight. Students, athletes, truck drivers, and housewives all abused the drug. In the 1960s, doctors even used methamphetamine to treat heroin addiction.

In the 1960s, however, problems with addiction to meth were increasing, especially with forms that could be injected. The drug began to appear on the streets, often illegally produced and used by groups ranging from biker gangs to students. Methamphetamine became the most popular illegal drug after marijuana.

History of methamphetamine reports show that in the 1970s the US government cracked down on meth use, restricting use of the drug and launching an education campaign on the dangerous effects of using meth. The popularity of the drug declined at this point due to its lack of availability. In the 1980s the drug was fairly unpopular except among a few groups, such as homosexual men and those who brought the drug illegally from Mexico. At this point meth that could be smoked was also developed.

By the end of the 1980s the abuse of methamphetamine became popular again in Hawaii, perhaps because of its connection with Japan's early meth epidemic. From Hawaii the drug spread to the West Coast of the United States, where its popularity surged in the 1990s. Rural meth labs sprung up where people illegally cooked meth. Because the meth was made with new recipes, its strength varied greatly, increasing the chances for an overdose among users.

In 1996 Congress made efforts to get the history of methamphetamin headed in a new direction with the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, this act aggressively targeted meth producers by trying to cut off their supply of chemicals needed to create meth. The drug continued to spread east, however, until it was the most popular drug of abuse on the West Coast, and a problem drug in both rural and urban areas of the Midwest. It recently reached the East Coast as well. In 2006, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which further restricted the availability of chemicals to produce meth.

Much of the meth made today comes from California, often distributed by biker gangs or through networks of acquaintances, though it also comes from Mexico through organized crime networks. Methamphetamin is still more popular in the West, but meth use has become a problem throughout the United States, especially since it is being distributed through crime networks that are established across the country.

Methamphetamine statistics show that the number of people treated for meth addiction or overdose, and those who have died from meth use, has skyrocketed, especially in western states. In some states, between 30 and 40 percent of all people admitted for drug rehab treatment are addicted to meth. These addicts are reported to have a harder than usual time of overcoming their drug problem.

The presence of meth labs puts toxic chemicals into the environment, and into people who come into contact with them, sometimes unknowingly. Law enforcement has to expend extra time, money, and manpower trying to stop this threat. Meth producers often resort to violent means to protect their operations, including using weapons and bombs, meaning that the use of methamphetamines have a high cost for communities where the drug is a problem.


Montgomery (TN) County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff's Meth Corner, "History of Methamphetamine" [online]

Vermont Department of Health, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Information, "A Brief History of Methamphetamine" [online]

Abt Associates, for the US Department of Justice, "Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned" [online]

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