Amphetamines such as meth were first synthesized in Germany around 1887. Meth history shows that for quite a while, amphetamines were just a drug in search of an illness to treat. Nothing was done with the drug from its discovery (synthesis) in the 1880s until its first use in the late 1920s. At that time it was seriously investigated as a cure or treatment against nearly everything from depression to decongestion.
The history of meth goes back many years. Immediately following World War II, meth was extensively used to reduce fatigue and suppress appetite. Following the war era, meth tablets (referred to as work pills) were widely used in Japan. In the late 1960s, meth became known as a dangerous drug that created substantial health threats to users, prompting the drug prevention slogan "speed kills." Concerns about growing rates of meth use prompted the passage of the 1974 Drug Control Act which drastically limited the medicinal usage of all amphetamines and virtually eliminated its large scale abuse. During the late 1970s and through the early 1980s, the problem of meth use in the U.S. was, for the most part, limited to several California cities (e.g., San Francisco and San Diego). The primary manufacturers and suppliers of meth at the time were members of the Hells Angels and other motorcycle gangs headquartered in California.
Meth history shows that in the mid-1980s meth use escalated dramatically in Honolulu as a product called "ice." Ice is a smokable form of the drug that was imported onto the island of Oahu from the Philippines. Additionally, meth history during the 1980s shows the federal government put strict controls on Phenyl-2-propane, the precursor chemical for meth. This action curtailed the home P2P meth labs, but cooks on the West Coast soon discovered that ephedrine could be used to create an even more potent form of the drug called Crystal Meth. The newest supply of speed was twice as potent as the old. Within just a few years, meth manufacturing grew from small shops set up to supply biker gangs to multiple home labs, concentrated on the West Coast. Mexican drug runners supplied large amounts of ephedrine to the meth cooks.
The history of meth has shown that this is not a difficult drug to produce. During the 1980s there was a rapid proliferation of large and small clandestine meth laboratories in the southern desert areas of California including San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Primary precursor chemicals commonly used for manufacturing meth include: ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, hydrochloric or hydriotic acid, ether, and red phosphorus which were readily available from numerous sources. During this point in meth history there were few or no regulations on the purchase of these chemicals and the manufacture of meth was a rapidly growing "cottage industry."
By the mid-1980s, the Drug Enforcement Agency was searching for ways to stop the growth of meth manufacturing and use. In 1988, regulations were put into place on the sales and imports of chemicals used to make illicit drugs, including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The original proposal covered both the raw materials and products made from them. Heavy lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry led to a compromise: the raw materials would be regulated, but not the over the counter medications made from them would not be. Meth cooks simply switched from using the raw materials to buying the unregulated cold relief pills and adjusted their process to extract the ephedrine/pseudoephedrine from them. Later in meth history, federal restrictions were put in place on the purchase of ephedrine in bulk during the early 1990s resulted in two major consequences for meth production.
The following decade ushered into a virtual explosion of make shift meth labs, meth use, and meth addiction. Manufacturers became more adept at purifying their product, increasing its potency. Drug rehab centers began seeing more and more clients naming meth as their primary drug of choice. Mexican drug lords stepped up their meth manufacturing in Super Labs and increased their smuggling operations into the U.S. In the mid-90s, foreign ephedrine suppliers agreed with the United State's request to stop exporting their product to the cartels. The supply tightened up and America's meth became less pure.
At this point in meth history there was a change in the "recipes" used to make meth in the U.S., such that pseudoephedrine replaced ephedrine as the main chemical used in production. As a result of the switch to pseudoephedrine as a precursor chemical for the manufacture of meth, pharmacies and convenience stores around the U.S. became unwitting suppliers of the meth production effort. This is because pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter cold and sinus medicines (e.g., Sudafed and Nyquil).
Federal and state regulation reports on the history of meth, as well as voluntary actions by many of the manufacturers of pseudoephedrine-containing medications, led to packaging modifications. This gave rise to blister packaging of all products with pseudoephedrine, which are now sold in limited numbers. Meth history reports that some states have passed legislation that requires that all pseudoephedrine products are moved behind the sales counters in pharmacies and stores, further restricting access. However, these political efforts have been slow. These strategies are believed to have increased the difficulty for meth producers to acquire adequate supplies of pseudoephedrine without drawing the attention of retailers and consequently law enforcement officials.
The extensiveness of meth history reveals there was a shift in meth production-based markets from the U.S. to Mexico in recent years, where ephedrine was still available with few restrictions. The emergence of large-scale meth production just south of the border in Mexico has had an unforeseen consequence. Mexican drug trafficking organizations with established routes, smuggling strategies, and highly trained personnel for transporting marijuana and heroin into the U.S. have added meth to their "product line." This has since introduced meth into medium-size cities in the western mountain region of the U.S. (e.g., Salt Lake City) and the Midwest (e.g., Des Moines). Expansion of meth in these geographic areas has not only impacted the rising and spreading rates of meth-related drug disorders in the U.S., but also increased the power and impact of Mexican trafficking organizations and their ability to subsequently further extend their commerce with meth into the Southeastern U.S.