Methamphetamine is the black sheep of the amphetamine drug family. It has an almost polar opposite reputation to MDMA, the other popular drug in the very broad amphetamine family.
Methamphetamine has a high redose compulsion and, like other amphetamines, is an appetite suppressant and a disinhibitor; which is not the best combination if you want to stay healthy.
Harm reduction 101 for methamphetamine
It should go without saying that all drug use has risks and the only way to stay safe is not to use drugs. But let’s be realistic, people do use drugs. So:
If you’re smoking
- Use a pyrex pipe rather than a glass one. Glass will shatter if it gets too hot
- Have plenty of water on hand. Smoking methamphetamine gives you dry mouth, which will make you thirsty. Drinking water instead of sugary drinks will help you to avoid ‘meth mouth’.
- Brush your teeth. Not to sound like your nan, but methamphetamine is acidic. So you run a higher risk of tooth decay if you smoke it.
If you’re injecting
- Use a fresh, sterile needle every time
- Never ever EVER share needles with anyone EVER
- Wash your hands and the injecting site thoroughly before injecting
- Use a wheel filter to remove impurities.
If you’re snorting
- Use a clean straw.
- Try and avoid using rolled up bank notes to snort with. Money is a common disease vector. Putting something up your nose that’s been through someone else’s hands is never a good idea
- Use your own snorting utensil. The skin on the inside of your nasal passages is very thin. Putting someone else’s snot up your nose is a good way to pass on viruses, and also super gross.
Look after your meatsuit
Methamphetamine is an appetite suppressant and a stimulant. When you take it, you don’t feel hungry or tired. You can be awake for days without eating. This can lead to insomnia-induced psychosis and extreme weight loss. Having snacks around to remind you to eat or even setting an alarm every few hours for a snack will help immensely.
Rest is the other thing you need to be mindful of. If you find yourself too full of energy to be still and watch movies or something, you could try something like a Rubik’s puzzle or fidget toy could help. It’ll keep your hands moving, and you can do it lying down, which is a pretty good rest.
Occasional use vs. bingeing vs. habitual use vs. addiction
The risks associated with the frequency and amount of methamphetamine are different. If you only take a small amount every now and then, the risks are relatively low. The more you take and the more often you take it, the higher the risk of harm is.
Bingeing is where you take a whole lot of something in the space of a short amount of time, like when you bingewatch things on Netflix.
Bingeing stimulants like methamphetamine can be problematic because they can give you insomnia. Bingeing methamphetamine will keep you awake long enough to give you insomnia-induced psychosis. It’s also an appetite suppressant, and there’s a high risk of forgetting to eat regularly on your binge. The hangry will be real.
And then there’s the crash. What goes up must come down. Your body will want to replenish all of its lost energy by eating and sleeping as much as it can. This can mean needing to take time out from social situations and work to recover.
Habitual use is where you take a bit of substance at regular enough intervals that it becomes an unconscious action. Much like you don’t think about brushing your teeth in the morning or evening, you just do it. As we mentioned before, methamphetamine has a high redose compulsion, so it’s easy to fall into habitual use after a couple of weeks. If you find yourself using methamphetamine more than once every couple of weeks, you may be forming a habit.
Addiction is keeping up habitual use when taking the drug is no longer a fun time. Habitual use over a prolonged period of time can lead to a physical dependency. This is the basis for addiction. Chemical dependency is what gives a person withdrawals (anxiety, formication, headaches, insomnia, psychosis, etc.). These withdrawals can drive people to extreme actions to get the substance that they’re addicted to. This is where we see the main health risks.
Soooooooo remember how we said methamphetamine is a stimulant and a disinhibitor? Yeah, it affects your libido too. Meth is one of the most popular drugs on the chemsex scene for that reason. Just remember
- Enthusiastic, informed consent is key. If there’s a chance that you might have sex with someone, have a good conversation about boundaries with them before you embark on your methamphetamine adventure. If it’s not a fuck yes, it’s a fuck no.
- STIs like chlamydia, HIV, syphilis etc. are a real danger and will ruin your day completely. Condoms, dental dams, and lube are your friend.
Stigma is bullshit and stops people from getting help when they need it.
KnowYourStuffNZ thinks that people who need help should get help, no matter why they need help. Unfortunately many people disagree and some of those people work in powerful places and give us unhelpful drug laws like the ones we have now. Laws like those create a society in which stigma around drugs is massive and problematic.
Toby Morris made a cartoon for the Spinoff in 2018 about what could happen if the 2020 Cannabis referendum was passed. A couple of panels in the cartoon talk about the drug landscape in Portugal after drugs had been decriminalised, and how problematic drug use had dropped because people felt more free to talk about their health and issues:
Shaming and alienating people because of the substance they use is bullshit.
If someone that needs help asks for that help and they get rejected because ‘meth is horrible’ or ‘only gross people do that shit’, that person will
- not trust the person they confided in any more,
- feel worse about themselves, which may lead to:
- them using more drugs to feel better
- them not feeling like anyone can help them
- them not feeling like they deserve help when they need it
All of these add up to them not getting help, whether it be from their friends and family, a community support group, or a medical centre. They will isolate themselves. People that feel alone and isolated have more problems with drugs (and yes, that does include alcohol). Whether it’s from boredom or loneliness, some people will escape via intoxication.
Even acting like your drug is better than their drug (hello, the “It’s natural!” cannabis brigade) can make people feel like they can’t reach out because nobody will listen. Your drug is not better, no drug has an intrinsic value, and if you want to avoid alienating people who might need help, you shouldn’t act like it does.
To put it bluntly, don’t be an arsehole to people that come to you for help, because doing that will probably make it worse.
Did you know that when it first came to NZ, meth was a party drug used mainly by young middle class white people? People with that kind of privilege often manage to avoid the worst of the harms from the drugs they use.
It wasn’t till it started being used in poorer, non-white communities that the media jumped in and started talking about meth as a ‘scourge’ that needed to be ‘stamped out’. The predictable response was a “hard on drugs” approach by politicians that led to mass incarceration of Māori, destruction of lives and communities, and the help people actually needed being withheld in favour of punishment.
Because racism and stigma combined are one helluva drug.
Fact: Rates of meth use fluctuate but actually it’s sat around 1% of the population for the last decade. It is not ‘ravaging our country’ and it never was.
What has happened is that our racist, classist politicians and media have turned it into yet another way of blaming poor brown people for problems they have that are actually created by systemic racism. And it happens around the world.
Read about racism in the Aotearoa New Zealand justice system
Read about racism in the Australian justice system
We’re not linking to the US, the justice system’s racism. It’s counted daily in new police murders and grievous assaults and you’d have to live under a rock to miss it. BLM, yo.
A brief history of methamphetamine
Amphetamine was first made back in the 1800s in Germany. Methamphetamine was synthesized from amphetamine in Japan around 1919, and only started being used widely in the 1930s under the brand name Benzedrine. The Benzedrine inhaler was used as a decongestant, and Benzedrine sulphate was used as a treatment for narcolepsy, chronic pain, and other disorders.
Methamphetamine was widely used by soldiers on both sides of WWII as a stimulant and performance enhancer. After the war it was sold as an over-the-counter medicine in pharmacies around the world as a slimming agent and mood enhancer. It was also the most prescribed antidepressant in the period from 1930 to 1950. This led to it being overused and abused on a grand scale.
Non-prescription methamphetamine was internationally outlawed in 1971 as a result of the UN’s Convention of Psychotropic Substances and it’s been downhill since then. Can we be realistic and turn this around?