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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 Todd C. Roberts
  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 Desoxyn. As the name "speed" suggests,  amphetamines elevate mood, heighten endurance and eliminate fatigue,  explaining the drug's popularity with the military. Hitler was supposedly  injected with methamphetamine.
  Speed rose to popularity in California, home of many of the largest  meth labs in the country, riding on the back of biker gangs. Bikers have  been historically blamed for introducing the drug into the psychedelic  '60s, subsequently bringing down a whole Summer of Love with violence and  angst. Since then, speed has been given a bad rap. It has been called a  trailer park drug for decades, due to the fact that it can be cooked up  so cheaply and easily. It's the drug of choice for long-distance truckers  and college students pulling all-nighters. Over the counter ephedrine, or  "white crosses," has taken the place of pharmaceutical amphetamine as an  easy-to-get alternative.
  What is often misunderstood is the relationship between speed and  crystal meth. The common reference to speed in the rave scene is the  methamphetamine salt (HCl powder), whereas "crystal" usually refers to  the free-base form of methamphetamine. Another form "Ice," a  higher-grade, purer form of crystal meth is smoked, a single hit creates  a high that lasts for hours and several hits can wire a user for days.  However, its high price prevents it from taking hold. A gram of "ice"  commands about $5,000 on the street.
  Speed came to the rave scene in 1992. Theory: when the parties in '92  started to get really good, the police were cracking down more on the  prime-time parties -- partiers needed to find late-night/early morning  activities like after-hours. Consequently, the price of taking 3-4 pills  of ecstasy became too expensive an option, speed took over as an easier  to get and cheaper alternative. Now, the standard street price in Los  Angeles for a gram of speed is approximately $100, where ecstasy sells  for approx. $150 or more.
  One major misconception is the link between methamphetamine and ecstasy
[MDMA]. Ecstasy does not necessarily contain speed, yet both contain the  methamphetamine structure. However, each affects a far different region  of the brain resulting in different psychological effects. Ecstasy  primarily effects serotonin in the brain -- the center for  self-satisfaction and emotional systems. Speed affects dopamine  primarily, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward. (Oddly,  alcohol also affects a dopamine center.) Often, MDMA is "cut" with speed  to lower the street price of the drug, thus changing the overall effect.  The two are similar in chemical makeup but one cannot be made from the  other. Slightly changing the chemical makeup produces a wholly different  effect in the human brain. While both have addictive potential, speed,  because of its dopamine ties, is much more profoundly addicting.  Qualitatively, speed and ecstasy supposedly give off "glows" that are far  different.
  Ecstasy has a definite link to the rave scene. In some places it is  synonymous. Speed too has been linked to the rave scene -- some say it  was the death of the ideal. What's unusual, given the qualitative  similarities between the two, are the differing opinions about speed.  While many admit openly to taking MDMA, they will not condone or even  accept speed as a "valid" recreational drug. The stigma that goes with  "tweaking" can be quite severe.
  "Speed is evil," says Dominic. "I have seen more people's lives twisted  up off that drug than anything else in the world. I was first introduced  to it about five years ago by a girl I was dating. I basically watched  her use of it turn from an occasional party thing to basically the  sustenance of her life. Her body withered way, and everything she did  revolved around speed."
  "Speed does not belong in the underground scene," he continues.  "Something that is so damn negative could never co-exist with the  positive ideals that we try to promote. If you want to get amped, feel  energy and stay up all night, try alternatives -- using speed just to  stay up is a total cop out."   However, his opinion is that ecstasy has  opposite effects and could actually save the rave scene. "[MDMA] induces  a sense of spiritual enlightenment, happiness, and sometimes social  understanding, something that could never be achieved by shoving a few  rails of driveway cleaner up your nose."
  "I'm all for consciousness expansion, even if by chemical means," says  another critic, Michael. "Preferably organic chemistry. The problem is  major parts of the scene moved away from enlightenment, transcendence and  betterment of the self through involvement in community"
  A regular user of the drug is DJ Velour, 19, also finds some criticism  for it. "I believe that speed/crystal is one of the most psychologically  addictive drugs around," he says "Whenever I get tired or wish I had more  energy, I always think how nice it would be to have some speed. In that  respect, I am addicted, because it is definitely a part of my thought  pattern now. And I haven't done speed for over 3 weeks now." Even though  his experiences have not all been good, he is still connected to the  drug.
  "Amphetamines, in my mind are not evil," says Velour, hoping to defend  the drug against his critical peers. "They are simple chemicals, if there  is anything evil it is the society we live in which dictates that they  are illegal and thus makes them harder to get."
  "I will admit one thing, it is very addictive," he goes on. "Once you  take it a few times, you will continue to think about it after you stop.  I haven't done speed for a month now and still some days will go by where  I have only had 3 or 4 hours sleep, and I think to myself, 'You know,  speed would really help out right now.' However, that is what makes me a  more responsible user. I not only realize my desire for speed and other  amphetamines and I curb the habit." He feels that his ability to control  his habit is more powerful than his lust for it. "Many of my friends are  long time users of speed. However, by no means have they ruined their  lives."
  DJ Velour believes that the rave community can co-exist with a drug  like methamphetamine. He also, among others, mentions speed's many  different appearances that make for different psychological outcomes.  "Speed and other stimulants can be a positive part of a raving community.  However, just like any other drug it depends upon the person taking it  and the purity/mixture of the drug. As strange as this may sound,  different speeds can evoke different emotions. They not only stimulate  latent emotions, increasing their strength, but they can also enforce  emotions much in the way ecstasy can. I have had some very "happy" speed  that made me feel as happy as when I was on X. On the flip side I have  had some lower grade speed that made me feel depressed."
Speedlore and Methology: Part I
  "Of all the separate realities, legal landscapes, and metabolic metropolis that thrive beneath the surface of the Cleaver's USA, no subculture seems  as pervasive or uniform as the nationwide-eyed, high dosage  methamphetamine club.
  This group is a tribute to the idea that some things stay the same  across time or space... the members come and go, some leave quietly, some  go snitch, croak, or disappear, some hang in there after their lights  have gone out, and quite a few are dragged off at 6:00 a.m. Friday  morning by blue windbreakers with yellow writing.
  Getting in too deep is what we do, it's who we are.
  But despite all this, there are a few of us who have managed to hang  around the periphery for decades, avoiding the felonies, gunshots, big  ripoffs, and crippling motorcycle accidents. Other than luck, the key to  staying alive is knowing when to take a step back, on your own, and avoid  the biggest bear-trap in the speed circus: taking yourself too  seriously...
  Truly not giving a fuck is the only way to maintain perspective. In  other words, there are worse things that can happen, than having to lay  down and go to sleep for a week... no drug or state of mind is worth  dying for, killing for, or doing hard time for..." (Speed Phreak)
  "My experience with speed-like substances really begins with coffee,"  says Mark, an addict that relates his experiences back to an early age.  "I've been drinking the stuff since Jr. High School as my get me up and  go thing. But the relationship with amphetamines starts six or seven  years ago with poppers (ephedrine, mini-thins). I started taking them to  stay awake in college to finish papers and the like."
  "Things got really serious when I started doing CAT, a local low-grade  speed that was in vogue about six years ago." CAT, or methacathinone, is  a popular substance made from common household chemicals like  drain-cleaner, Epsom salts and battery acid. "I realized how bad my  problem was when right around the time the land war in Iraq began. I had  stayed up for days on end, watching the planes bomb the Iraqis. It's the  only drug I've done at work. To this day what was a six month period  still seems to me to be several weeks. It's also the only drug I've done  where my peers at work noticed mood swings, irritability, and  sleeplessness. The CAT I knew dearly also tweaked me on methamphetamine  when the CAT seemed to loose its luster." CAT is notorious for its  hardcore addictive potential, apparently strong enough to hook users  after just one sample.
  "Even after I kicked the CAT habit, I would usually indulge my speed  addiction by crushing up mini-thins and snorting them. This continued for  about another year. Most recently (for about a year) I moved to MDMA as  the speed kick. At first I did it about once a month, but that has fallen  off to a much less frequent, but still regular usage."
  "What caught me about speed, and what catches me now, is the feeling of  invulnerability. I think I get from speed what most cocaine users get  from coke. The feeling of being on top of the world. As a raver, speed is  also a convenient way to keep dancing long after your body has gone to  sleep."
  Asked if the drug has improved his life, he answers, "What a joke.  Improve? Beyond the nominal gain of being able to dance until the wee  hours of the morning, it doesn't. And productivity? Any gains are  ephemeral and short-lasted."
  "I do in fact know some people who skate through life without problems  with drugs. But I think more people than not overestimate their ability  to handle drugs. Drugs can be fun, but they also tend to get in the way  of being a functional human being with multi-dimensional interests, as  opposed to being a full-time club kid, which gets you nowhere fast."
  For "Pat," the drug poses a serious paradox. He was prescribed  methamphetamine for a learning disability and consequently produced a  problem through abuse. "I'm able to work with concentration on something  far longer than a few hours," he says of meth. "I have Attention Deficit  Disorder [and] speed seems to improve my attention span."
  "It can be a transcendental drug if you do enough. I've had really  intense thought about observations of myself, or new ideas about what I'd  like to do with my music, or other creative thoughts. This occurs with  other psychedelic drugs that I've done." Still, he describes the typical  problem with drugs like speed. "Speed is funny. You think you've got it  under control when you first do it because it's usually so nasty on the  sinuses and your body that you don't ever think you could get used to the  feeling... [However], you do."
  Other users bring up the fact that MDMA also has an addiction factor,  that many only attribute to meth. "I like speed just fine," says Benboy.  "But I have seen many speed freaks go out like that. And I've seen a few  'E' freaks buy the farm too, even though I do think E is much safer). But  a drug, whether it's strychnine, THC, caffeine or Prozac, is nothing more  than an inert substance; as dangerous as a head of lettuce in itself.  It's what you do with it that makes a difference. But the difference  between jonesing for a sugar fix and a speed fix is only partially  chemical and physiological. Most of it is social." The drug itself is not  the problem, it's the setting involved. The availability and the motive  to remain awake for long hours may compound the addiction of speed.
  Still others attribute a great deal of positive qualities to  methamphetamine. "My brain was so clear when I used this, that I came up  with answers to problems that had been bugging me for months," says an  anonymous post to one of the world wide web's drug archives. "This stuff  makes your brain work at 100% efficiency and doubles processor speed. It  makes you feel (and probably actually does) like your IQ jumped quite a  bit." According to some medical journals, methamphetamine does produce  slight improvements in mental acuity, though performance of only "simple  mental tasks" is improved, although the amount of errors is not  necessarily decreased.
  Still many would attribute "wonder drug" status to meth, enabling them  to get more done without sleep. Students, hackers and late-night workers  rely on the drug to keep them awake. "Sleep will never even occur to  you," the post continues. "Do two hits in the morning before work, and  you will never miss the sleep from the night before. As a matter of fact,  you will feel better than if you had skipped the drug and slept all  night!"
Speedlore and Methology: Part II
  "The American Speedfreak is not a lost soul. We know how to have fun  between the first ether gasp and locking ourselves in the closet. A  twisted wisdom creeps into those of us who manage to survive, a sort of  collective unconsciousness, an unspoken Crankster ideology:
It's time to get some sleep when:
You're out of crank
Your face is bouncing off the table
Your veins have completely disappeared beneath pasty goose flesh  Your shoes don't fit anymore
24 simultaneous projects have stalled for lack of floor space suddenly  everyone is a cop
You've just set yourself on fire, again
You're nodding out...
  into glassware
  15 minutes after shooting a 1/4g
  at stoplights
  in mid-sentence
  in mid-shot
  in mid-fuck"
(Speed Phreak)
  Speed was created for a future world where everything moves at a faster  clip, an unsettling velocity. Seemingly synthesized as an accessory to a  fast car, high speed lifestyle, it has made mutations over the years to  evolve for a new race. The punk, cyber, industrial and rave scenes has  exemplified their fetish for speed. The desire for future frontiers --  high gloss veneers and space travel-- is not inhuman, but the problem  comes with the human limitation to handle the extremes of rocket travel  or the side-effects of re-entry. Like a space capsule falling to earth,  the destruction that comes from the come-down can be severe.
  The come-down is what many users refer to as "the crash." Usually  symptoms like chills, nervous twitching, sweats and exhaustion are  prevalent. The "high" produced is a result of extra activation chemicals  in the brain. "The so-called stereotypic behavior in animals (compulsive  gnawing, sniffing) is associated with dopamine release from reservoirs in  neurons in the brain," says Matt Plunkett, an Organic Chemistry graduate  student at U.C. Berkeley. "The increase in motor activity involves the  noradrenaline system. [The drug] mimics the molecule noradrenaline  (norepinephrine) at the receptors for this neurotransmitter. Hence your  body acts as if there were more of it around."
  Simply put, stimulants cause their effects by blocking re-uptake of  neurotransmitters at a pre-synaptic membrane. The cell secretes  activation chemicals, but cannot re-absorb them in the presence of  cocaine or speed. The user feels "wired," full of energy, because their  cells are receiving massive stimulation. The more concentrated the drug  is, the more intense the rush is, and the more damaging the effects. In  worst case scenarios, heart attacks occur from over stimulation and  energy depletion.
  The come down is a result of the chemical being released all at once,  making you high, but then is subsequently degraded in the synapse. So  once you come down, there's not as much as there normally should be,  creating the "come-down blues."
  Prevalent discussion between users on either side of the methamphetamine  argument involves addiction. According to several studies, criteria for  addiction includes: unsuccessful attempts to quit, persistent desire and  craving, continued use despite knowledge of harm to oneself or others,  taking the drug to avoid or relieve withdrawal. While the social  definition for addiction is debatable, the chemical and physical activity  in the body is founded in one of several compounds in the brain. "Many  drugs that are addictive, have primary or major effects on the dopamine  system (nicotine, amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, heroine)," says  Plunkett. "Drugs that don't have a major effect on dopamine generally  aren't 'addictive' in the same way -- Marijuana, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin,  etc. Although abuse potential is there, it doesn't generate the same kind  of craving. Dopamine is normally involved with pleasure and reward, among  many other biochemical roles."
  With long-term abuse, the effects of methamphetamine become much more  severe. Tolerance is an issue, like in most drugs, where more of the drug  is needed to get "high." Psychosis, specific to methamphetamines usually  sets in after a time which is said to include "suspicion, anxiety and  auditory hallucination." Though reportedly, much more acute are the  changes in lifestyle and eventually in personality that manifest. Users  exhibit an affective disorder and subtle change in psychological
temperament. Apparently, these symptoms can last up to five years. Many  who have witnessed the changes in habitual users report the shift to  aggressive or non-affectionate behavior which may also be attributed to  methamphetamine. Also apparent is some nerve damage in habitual users  (primarily crystal smokers) -- jaw clenching and facial ticks.However,  how much can be attributed tot the drug and how much to sleep deprivation  is unclear.
  Meth is one of the most addictive drugs of today's commonly used drugs.  According to one study that appeared in In Health magazine (Dec. 1990),  the addictive potential inherent in the drug, methamphetamine, taken  nasally ranks over cocaine, caffeine and PCP (angel dust) in addictive  qualities. MDMA, marijuana, psilocybin and LSD ranked at least 50 points  lower than meth on a 100 point scale, nicotine being the highest above  both crack and crystal meth. Talk of "addictive personalities" have  recently been founded valid, involving individual physiology, psychology,  social and economic pressures to suggest a person's vulnerability to drug  dependency. Therefore, it does rely greatly on the person when talking  about their potential for abuse. Still, many theorists contend that  stimulants -- lumping in caffeine, nicotine and amphetamines -- by their  nature are addictive and must be reconsidered by society.
  Ethnobotanist, drug theorist and author Terence McKenna calls the  "dominator" drugs -- synthetic drugs that have been refined and  concentrated, therefore losing their natural link to the planet and to  human-kind. He equates them with the religious fundamentalism and beige  fascism of the post-industrial, Western world -- the center for  ego-dominator culture. McKenna considers the natural psychedelics,  psilocybin and even LSD, to be more intuitive and based upon the natural  human spirit.
  "Dominator" drugs have been established and validated by "dominator  culture," a culture interested in the mass consumerism of these  legitimate substances -- sugar, nicotine, caffeine. He relates the  emergence of drugs like methamphetamine back to the institutionalized  abuse of these substances. "The history of commercial drug synergies --  the way in which one drug has been cynically encouraged and used to  support the introduction of others -- over the past five hundred years is  not easy to contemplate," he writes in his book Food of the Gods.
  "The hypocrisy of dominator culture as it picks and chooses the truths  and realities that it finds comfortable," he continues. Some drugs like  alcohol and nicotine have long been legal and subsidized by dominator  culture, however their qualitative separation from drugs like cocaine or  speed is still unclear. "[These drugs] are still at the depths of drug  depravity especially considering the violent or illegal acts that the  craving may induce [because of their illegal status], however tobacco  addicts (smokers) might kill for their fix too if they had to, but  instead they simply walk out to a 7-Eleven and buy cigarettes."
  While I am no proponent of speed or drug abuse, I have become glaringly  aware of the hypocrisy prevalent in mainstream and underground culture  regarding the legitimation of certain drugs. When finger-pointing, it is  important to remember the glass houses we all live in. Addiction is a  problem, but the bigger problem is sweeping it into a closet, pretending  it isn't real, pretending that our own addictions are more manageable.
  Speed is a potentially dangerous substance. It can be used as a tool,  like late-night coffee drinkers. It can also be used as a recreational  drug. However, it can also be abused and exploited to the point where the  need for it besides soothing a craving is the only point. And then, there  is no point. Some may argue that there is an aesthetic, a qualitative  high, however, by methamphetamine's nature -- as a refined, concentrated  addictive substance -- it only perpetuates the cycle for needing more.
  There is very little factual information about amphetamines and their  dangers available to the lay person. Research on the subject, aside from  medical journals, is virtually nill. There is however a great deal of  dangerous propaganda -- hear-say, lies, rumors. Misinformation sometimes  is more dangerous than no information and real answers are only found  through communication.
  Many other drugs have been part of the rave community over the years --  nitrous oxide, Special K (ketamine) and especially ecstasy (MDMA) but  none have exhibited the burn-out or addiction rate associated with  methamphetamine. While meth (or any drug) is an inert substance that we  cannot attribute blame to, by its nature it has raised the question "Are  we really built for speed?" It seems that the human body, while naturally  resilient to much self-inflicted abuse, may not be a reliable container  for the soul at high speeds. Methamphetamine may have the ability to  chemically fuel the ride, physically it may just prove the limitations  for human society.
Control drugs. Don't let them control you.
Article originally appeared in URB Magazine, October 1995

cya,               eMail: intruder@guardian.fido.de
    Marcus         MorgenGrauen (mud.uni-muenster.de): Intruder
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