A history of meth
1919: Methamphetamine, a stimulant, is developed by a pharmacologist in Japan. The drug alleviates fatigue and produces feelings of alertness and well-being.
1930s: Doctors begin using meth in the United States to treat asthma and narcolepsy.
World War II: Methamphetamine is given to Allied bomber pilots to sustain them on long flights. The experiment fails because soldiers become irritable and can't channel their aggression. Meth reportedly is given to Japanese kamikaze pilots, and perhaps to Nazi troops during invasions of Poland and Russia.
1945-1950s: Post-war Japan experiences the first meth epidemic. It spreads to Guam, the U.S. Marshall Islands and to the U.S. West Coast.
1950s: Still marketed to treat obesity, narcolepsy and sinus inflammation, "pep pills" or "bennies" are sold for nonmedical purposes. Some truckers, homemakers, college students and athletes pop pills to stay awake or keep active.
1960s: Doctors in San Francisco drug clinics prescribe injections of meth to treat heroin addiction. Illegal abuse occurs in subcultures such as outlaw biker gangs, which cook and use the drug.
1970: Meth, or speed, is regulated in the Controlled Substances Act; a public education campaign is mounted.
1980s: Drug treatment counselors see increased abuse among gay men. Mexican drug manufacturers begin bringing meth north of the border.
Late 1980s: New ways to cook meth appear. Some new versions are four to six times stronger. Greatest use is seen in the Southwest and West.
1990s: Meth use begins and grows in the rural Midwest. Some migrant farm laborers working for drug dealers are suspected of bringing the drug into rural areas never hit by a drug epidemic before.
1996: Congress passes the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, which regulates mail order and chemical companies selling precursor chemicals. For example, people who buy large quantities of red phosphorous, iodine and hydrochloric gas must show they will use them for legitimate purposes. Law enforcement agents are allowed to track large mail order purchases of pseudoephedrine, another precursor chemical. Chemical supply companies are punished if they sell chemicals to people who make meth.
2000: In the Inland Northwest, and in much of the West, meth is the favored hard drug, surpassing crack, cocaine and heroin. It's still prescribed for some medical purposes.
Back to top