Weird History A Brief History Behind The Explosive Popularity Of Crystal Meth Around The World  

Cleo Egnal
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Since its creation in the late 1800s, methamphetamine has gone by a variety of street names, from crystal, to ice, to crank. Despite its current status as a Schedule II substance, meth was actually created as a remedy for asthma. During World War II, both the Allies and the Axis relied on meth to keep their soldiers going, and the drug was rebranded as a weight loss tool in the 1950s. Unfortunately, meth is also one of the most addictive drugs in the world, which perhaps explains its pervasive use, regardless of legality.

In the US, the drug actually increased in popularity after it was outlawed in 1970. In 2014, 1,301,000 US residents aged 12 or older used meth in the past year. The timeline of meth history gets scarier with each passing year, as the drug's potency and popularity have increased with the advancement of synthesis techniques. As it turns out, the events depicted on Breaking Bad are just the tip of the iceberg. 

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The Drug Was Invented In Germany In 1893 By A Japanese Scientist


In 1871, Japanese doctor Nagai Nagayoshi traveled to Berlin to study chemistry. The doctor was interested in Asian herbs, and in 1885 he managed to extract a stimulant called ephedrine from the Ephedra plant, which had been used as an herbal remedy for centuries. When Nagayoshi first announced his discovery, some believed he was attempting to create a drug similar to cocaine, as Sigmund Freud's 1884 Über Coca writings had painted coke as a new miracle drug. While Nagayoshi claimed ephedrine was meant to help people with asthma problems, the drug failed to capture the public's attention, and was generally overlooked by pharmaceutical manufacturers. 

In 1893, Nagayoshi created methamphetamine, which also failed to gain popularity, in part because the compound was difficult to synthesize. The tide began to turn in 1919 when Akira Ogata, another Japanese doctor studying in Berlin, figured out a way to more effectively synthesize meth, creating crystal meth in the process. While methamphetamine is a powder, crystal meth is solid, and depending on the purity, it can resemble shards of glass. 

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The Plant Meth Is Derived From Is A Centuries-Old Cure For Asthma


Methamphetamine is derived from the plant ephedra, which has been used in China, India, Pakistan, and America to make herbal teas to treat asthma, as well as general cough and congestion. When the amphetamine ephedrine was isolated from the ephedra, scientists began exploring ways to more affectively synthesize potent drugs from the plant. After methamphetamine was introduced in a crystallized form (AKA crystal meth) in 1919, it became an instant hit.    

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The Drug Was Used During World War II To Keep Soldiers Awake


During World War II, the German pharmaceutical company Temmler began selling over the counter methamphetamine tablets called Pervitin. Since methamphetamine's effects mirror a rush of adrenaline, it was quickly implemented on the battlefield, as it made soldiers alert, fearless, and willing to take risks during combat. 

In addition to Germany, the US, Britain, and Japan all reportedly distributed Pervitin to their armies. Japanese kamikaze pilots were given high doses of Pervitin before embarking on suicide missions, and Adolf Hitler was probably constantly high on a cocktail of meth and other drugs. 

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In The 1950s, Meth Was Sold As A Diet Pill


After the war, meth became a popular drug used to treat ailments such as asthma, depression, and narcolepsy. However meth found the most success as a diet pill. Beginning in the '40s, and continuing into the '50s, the market was flooded with over-the-counter amphetamine pills meant to help curb hunger. Obetrol, one of the more popular brands, contained 2.5 milligrams of methamphetamine per tablet (meth users have reported experiencing highs from as little as 5 milligrams). 

These drugs were marketed to housewives, as advertisements claimed amphetamines could keep them slim and help them get more done around the house. One ad from 1940 read, "This magic powder does more than disperse unwanted fat, it purifies and enriches the blood, tones up the entire system and makes you feel better in health in every way."