Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ice, Crank, Speed, Methamphetamine

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

What exactly is "ice" and how does it differ from "crank" “speed” or “methamphetamine”? What are the adverse effects of this drug on an individual? -- Jennifer

Dear Jennifer:

There has been quite a flood of questions recently about "ice" so I suspect that there might have been an upsurge of the use of "ice" itself.

First, a statement of simple fact. "Ice" and the hydrochloride salt of d-methamphetamine are identical chemicals and thus have identical effects. They differ in their appearance, however, and in their usual routes of self-administration. d-Methamphetamine hydrochloride has classically been seen as very fine white powder. However, if you dissolved it in boiling water and either put the solution into a refrigerator, or let the water evaporate slowly, it forms large transparent crystals that can vary in size from grains of rice up to the last joint of your little finger.

The white powder form has classically been taken orally or injected, whereas the "ice" crystalline form is usually smoked. This product is always the optically active "d" isomer -- efforts to make large crystals from water solutions of the dl-racemic methamphetamine have always failed.

The first seizure of "ice" by the Federal authorities was in Hawaii, in 1985, and it had been imported from Japan (where it was known as Shabu) and from South Korea (where it was known as Hiropong). It rapidly became very popular for smoking, being sold in penny-size plastic bags known as "paper." Each contained 100 milligrams, about four hits and, as each hit was usually well over 12 hours in duration and each "paper" cost $50.00, the high ran less than a dollar an hour. Tripping was referred to as "amping" and the use of smokable crack cocaine virtually disappeared! Another stimulant, 4-methylaminorex or U4Euh), appeared a few years earlier in the eastern United States and was given the name of "ice" but in the long run the Hawaiian smokable methamphetamine got all the attention. In 1989 there were multipage articles in Newsweek and Time, followed early the next year with large spreads in Rolling Stone and Good Housekeeping.

d-Methamphetamine when taken orally peaks in the plasma in about three hours (at 20-30 nanograms per mL), and has a half-life of about 10 hours, but I don't know of any studies of subjects who were given it by smoking. Under normal conditions, about half the administered dose is excreted in the urine in 24 hours, and about a tenth of this amount is the metabolite, amphetamine. But diet can very much influence this -- with acidic urine the excretion can be up to 75%, and with basic urine as low as 2%. A second metabolite in man is the 4-hydroxy analogue.

The Drug Law Enforcement crowd launched a strong, and memorable, radio campaign to deter the spread of "ice" use but may have inadvertently succeeded in popularizing it. This was the very first use of the airwaves for public announcements in the history of the DEA, and it took place in early 1990. It was a 60 second public service radio clip declaring that there is a new form of methamphetamine called "ice" that was very dangerous. The tape begins with a deep voice accompanied by descriptive sound effects:

The ingredients. Sulfuric acid: an industrial corrosive used in lead storage batteries ... it can eat through cloth, metal or flesh (hiss). Red phosphorus: used to make fireworks and the striker surface on packets of matches (sizzle). Mercury: Banned from toxic paints. Used in electronics, fluorescent lamps and cathode ray tubes (click, hum, crackle). Phenylacetic acid: commonly used in insect repellants (buzz). Aluminum foil: commonly used to bake your Christmas turkey (sizzle).

The announcement concluded with:

Nine out of ten chemists say it's a bad idea to put these materials in your brain. It all goes into making methamphetamine hydrochloride, "crank," "ice" or "speed." Nine out of ten chemists say, "Don't." The tenth chemist (explosion) was unavailable for comment. This is the Drug Enforcement Administration urging you to think twice before you speed.

-Dr. Shulgin