Methamphetamine: Built for Speed?

Methamphetamine has reclaimed a place in the lexicon of "party" drugs. Hailed by
nocturnal adventurers, condemned by raver idealists, is speed a sleepless dream
or an addictive nightmare?

by Brian Otto

Here at the end of the millennium, the pace of modern life seems fleeting -- a
whirl of minutes, hours and days. In dealing with the changes, humans have
equipped themselves with the tools to move faster, more efficiently. At the same
time a dependence for the marketing, high-speed transportation and pharmacology
of this modern age has evolved. In a race to outdo ourselves, we have moved
dangerously toward the fine line between extinction and evolution. Therefore,
the human capacity to handle the velocity becomes a fragile balance.

Our generation (see Gen X, 20-somethings) could be considered the sleepless
generation. An age of society\'s children weaned on the ideals of high-speed
communication and accelerated culture has prided itself in mastering many of the
facets of human existence -- doing more, sleeping less. The machines of this age
have in a way enabled us to create a 24-hour lifestyle. We have pushed the
limits of the modern world further -- ATMs, high-speed modems, smart bombs and
bullet trains. However, the limitations of human existence, like sleep, may
still provide the stumbling block for infinite realization. That is, without
chemical aid.

In many ways, capitalism fuels the idea. Our society is based upon the mass
consumption of these substances. Cultural ideals, while seemingly benevolent as
"Have a Coke and a smile" have sold the link to chemical substances like
caffeine and nicotine to "the good life." Today, stimulants are the bedrock for
consumer culture. For our generation, this appeal was heightened by raising the
stakes in the \'80s on what it meant to have fun.

Late night clubs, high speed music and 24-hour lifestyles brought the specter of
drugs to the fold as a necessity for being able to attain more. Leaps away from
the psychedelics of the \'60s, in the \'80s these stimulant drugs became tools --
utilitarian devices to gain wealth, intelligence and prestige. Sleep became a
barrier for success. Dreams were the frivolous luxuries of childhood.

Raves, founded equally in the post-conservative underground late-\'80s and the
chaotic early-\'90s, are part of the pastiche that has consequently become more
dream-like, more unreal and still somehow manageable. The hyperreality of today
goes hand in hand with the drugs being administered.

It\'s 6 a.m. Around the speaker bins are small packs of animated dancers grinding
their feet into the floor and shaking their hands in front of them. The lookie-
loos and weekend warriors have long since gone home. Absent from their faces are
the smiles of midnight, replaced by the blank, vacant stare of sleepless dreams.
They have a name in the rave community, they are "tweakers." "Tweaking," the
common name for sniffing lines of speed, the drug methamphetamine, (popular for
its availability and price) has somehow replaced MDMA and LSD as the perfect
rave drug, allowing users the clear head and stamina to keep dancing long after
their bodies have gone to sleep.

A prominent opinion during the aftermath of the Los Angeles Summer of Love was
that speed killed the rave scene. Where speed had been seen in every scene from
metal to the punk scene, for some reason it was shocking for some to see
methamphetamine take hold, even though MDMA (an amphetamine-like substance) had
been circulating for years. Some likened the rise to the quash of young
newcomers, some equated it with the greed of drug dealers. Judging from today\'s
roster of events throughout the nation, raves are still alive and well. However,
many old-schoolers have been turned off by the newbie vibe that came with
speed\'s rise in popularity. Some were casualties themselves of the drug\'s
addictive nature. Others say that speed alone is what fuels the rave scene,
keeping it from dying.

Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887. First popularized by pharmaceutical
company Smith Kline & French as the nasal inhaler, Benzedrine, in 1932.
(Amphetamine is widely known as a bronchio dialator, allowing asthmatics to
breathe more freely.) A probable direct reaction to the Depression and
Prohibition, the drug was used and abused by non-asthmatics looking for a buzz.
Jazz great Charlie "Bird" Parker would remove the inhaler\'s Benzedrine strip and
soak it in his coffee.

Methamphetamine, more potent and easy to make, was discovered in Japan in 1919.
The crystalline powder was soluble in water, making it a perfect candidate for
injection. Also smoking the drug creates a similar rush. It is still legally
produced in the U.S., most often prescribed for weight loss, sold under the
trade name