Meth wasn’t always the perceivably dangerous drug that it is today. At one point in time, it was prescribed and consumed as much as a Panadol would be today. Methamphetamine’s more innocent beginnings have had a huge effect on history and today’s society. 

Meth’s true beginning was in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1919, when the true popularity of the drug began. Japanese chemist, Akira Ogata, was studying in Berlin and discovered a fast and simple way to synthesise meth into a crystallised format. Ogata released this new drug to a British based pharmaceutical company where it was then introduced to Europe to help treat ailments such as sinus congestion and depression. 

However, the drug took on a new form in 1934 by the German pharmaceutical company Temmler. A tablet form of meth by the name of ‘Pervitin’ seemed like a pretty good product for the consumer market. It was sold to the general public in packs of 30 tablets, and was seen to be like a pick-me-up to increase concentration and alertness (think of it as a very extreme can of V).

This then became popular with German soldiers, Luftwaffe pilots and even Adolf Hitler. During 1940, within a four month period, the German military consumed over 35 million meth based tablets. The new found military miracle pill could keep tired pilots more alert and lift the spirits of those in battle. As a response to the increasing reliance on the drug, Nazis created ‘The Birch Method’ which was a way to easily produce meth in the battlefield. This is often referred to as ‘The Nazi method’. Although the drug was full of gusto, the long-term side effects were disastrous. Many were plagued with dizziness, depression and hallucinations.

At the same time in Japan, the drug was seen as a revolutionary workforce pill. It was called ‘Philopon’ which basically means ‘love of work’. It was given to military personnel as well as government factories. After WWII, it was discovered that many Japanese military warehouses had an abundance of methamphetamine pills used for speeding up work and the spirits of workers. 

In the US, the 1950s saw the dawn for meth-based diet pills. Many pharmaceutical companies patented the methamphetamines under various names, one of which was called Obetrol. These were given to those with extreme obesity as a way to curb the appetite. However, these pills were phased out during the 60s, and eventually outlawed in the 70s due to some of the obvious side effects. 

The growing concern with meth’s side effects, made it a drug to be feared, not prescribed. However, after taking it off the shelves, it was instead put in the hands of gangs and the black market. In America, during the late 1970s, crystal meth became popular with the infamous motorcycle gang ‘Hells Angels’. Meth was then sold and distributed around the country. More and more, illegal meth labs were sprouting within apartments, hotel rooms and isolated buildings. 

Meth has really evolved over the last 100 years, from it’s originally prescribed pill format to the crystal form that is illegally smoked today. The methamphetamine problem is not a simple issue to solve, but awareness and action can help combat it. In our next article, we will discuss how meth has made such strong roots in New Zealand’s underground culture.