The meth epidemic has taken a backseat in national attention because of the spotlight on opioids, but a new type of methamphetamine has created a spike in meth use. It's known as P2P (phenyl-2-propanone) meth, and it's the subject of recent debate: What makes P2P meth different from other forms of methamphetamine? What are its effects and dangers? How does it effect a person's mental health? Can it cause serious mental illness?
To find the answers to those questions and more, read on.
Methamphetamine, usually referred to by its shorthand "meth," is a central nervous system stimulant. Meth can be snorted, smoked, injected or taken orally, and its highs are characterized by an increase in energy and an elevated mood state. It is closely related, in both chemical structure and effect, to amphetamines, but meth has stronger effects and is usually manufactured illegally.
Amphetamines have a long history of abuse that predates World War II, and soldiers on both sides allegedly abused the drug to help with fatigue. After the war, amphetamines were introduced and popularized across the United States when they were commonly prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of health conditions. In fact, amphetamines are still prescribed for ADD and ADHD, and less frequently for narcolepsy and weight loss.
When the crackdown on legally prescribed amphetamines began, the production of meth ramped up. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 limited people's access to amphetamines, unintentionally creating a larger market for illegally manufactured methamphetamine.
Yes, the meth epidemic informally began in the 1970s when legislation limited the prescription of amphetamines. The production and use of illegal methamphetamine slowly traveled across the United States, starting on the West Coast and eventually, in the 1990s, finding a home in central and eastern parts of the country.
Also known as speed and glass, methamphetamine was initially cooked in home-grown laboratory set-ups, using cold medicine products that contained ephedrine. Meth made from ephedrine was readily available in the majority of the United States until the past decade when pharmacies became required by law to limit the sale of products containing ephedrine. Eventually, the Mexican government joined in outlawing ephedrine, thereby forcing drug traffickers to reinvent the process used to create methamphetamine.
Since the crackdown on ephedrine-based cold remedies, the production of meth has changed, giving rise to newer chemical makeups like P2P meth. Replacing ephedrine, meth is now produced with chemicals like:
Beyond just the ingredients, P2P meth also has a higher concentration of the isomer called d-methamphetamine. For reference, there are two forms of meth: d- and l-methamphetamine. Both are methamphetamines, obviously, but the two often come in different forms. The d-isomer is found in prescription drugs, whereas the l-isomer is found in over-the-counter products. And street drugs contain both, but generally contain more of the d-isomer because of its enhanced effects.
The d-isomer produces the high, and the l-isomer affects the body. So P2P, with its heavy concentrations of d-isomer, creates a different and very intense high for its users.
Methamphetamine produced from ephedrine generally prompts those using it to stay up and socialize, sometimes for days, due to lower levels of the d-isomer. Whereas users of P2P meth experience very different effects, including severe mental illness, psychosis, the desire to isolate, and hallucinations or delusions.
Because the manufacturers of P2P meth often produce the drug in unhygienic environments and because the producers aren't professional chemists, the consumers often suffer from additional and significant side effects. Street manufacturers' main priority is making money, and they don't generally worry about delivering a quality product.
Put simply, this new type of meth is more dangerous, and users have an increased likelihood of developing severe mental illness and other adverse mental health effects. P2P meth tends to be laced with other drugs like fentanyl, and users who seek help for their addiction have reported a detox process of nearly six months. Additionally, a person who uses P2P meth will likely experience a rapid decline in physical health, including liver failure, after even short periods using the substance.
The side effects of P2P meth are similar to those of ephedrine-based meth. Meth changes the physiological and psychological functioning of the body and brain. Meth abuse causes heightened blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. Psychological signs that a person might be using meth include temporary euphoria and energy, and increased levels of anxiety, paranoia, aggression, hallucinations and mood disturbances when dopamine levels taper off after use.
Treatment and recovery are available to all. There are specialized treatment services and programs to help with meth addiction, and there is a hopeful path forward from here. But it's essential that you be evaluated by a medical professional before you begin the detoxification process. Seek an assessment for in-patient or outpatient treatment, and attend groups like AA, NA or other peer-driven recovery support groups. Addiction is not the end. If you are concerned about your own meth use or someone else's, reach out for help today.