How Meth Works

Around the world, 26 million people know this as their pick-me-up friend, meth. See more pictures of controlled substances.
Photo courtesy U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Humans have enjoyed stimulants probably since the beginning of human awareness of stimulants. From the distant past to the immediate present, cultures all over the world have sought out a pick-me-up.

The ancient Chinese got their kick from má huáng, a tea brewed from an ephedra-producing shrub. South Americans have long ingested yerba mate from small gourds to keep themselves alert throughout the day. Somalis chew khat. Around the world, people every day are getting a boost by smoking cigarettes for the nicotine, drinking coffee for the caffeine and eating chocolate for the sugar. Legal amphetamines in the form of Adderall or Ritalin are heavily prescribed in the United States and other developed nations to treat ADHD in school-age children.

Of course, these are just the stimulants that are consumed in mixed company.

Those same amphetamines doled out to children to help them focus on school days are obtained by adults and crushed up and snorted to help them party on weekends. Some athletes discreetly take speed before sporting events to help them focus or give them a competitive edge over their rivals. Long-haul truck drivers have been known to seek out something on the down-low to keep their eyes open as they crisscross the continent in their rigs. The world is seemingly flooded with cocaine, which has been coming in and out of vogue for more than 150 years.

­As far as stimulating the human central nervous system, methamphetamine -- known also as crystal meth or just meth -- can hold its shaky, toothless head high. Users of this processed drug get a rush that leaves them wide-eyed and racing for anywhere from six to 24 hours at a time, and they often binge for days until they reach a twitchy, paranoid state known as "tweaking."

In this article, we'll discuss methamphetamine -- what it is, how it's made, where it came from and what it does to the 26 million people around the planet who use it [source: PBS].

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