The Properties of Methamphetamine


Methamphetamine can either exist as a “left-handed” molecule named l-methamphetamine or a “right-handed” molecule called d-methamphetamine. The left and right meth molecules are mirror images of one another. Mirror images represent one same molecule but with different arrangements in space. Such arrangements may not be superimposed. One’s right and left hands are an example of mirror images. A helpful way to remember their meanings is as the “drug” or “legal” forms of methamphetamine. The d– form of meth has a strong stimulant effect on the brain; its effects on the brain are about three to four times more potent than those from the l– form.

Due to differences in potency, l-methamphetamine provides medicinal benefits without any of the addictive potential contained in the illegal d-methamphetamine. The l– form of methamphetamine is used in some cold medicines, such as Vicks Inhaler, an over-the-counter nasal decongestant. However, to avoid confusion with the illegal version of meth, the manufacturer calls the active ingredient desoxyephedrine.


Methamphetamine comes in three forms: a crystalline powder, rocklike chunks, and pills or capsules.

Crystalline Powder

Meth in powder form is typically a white to tan color, but illegally produced meth powder can be yellow, pink, blue, or green depending on the method of manufacture. Red-colored pseudoephedrine tablets can produce a pink meth powder. A bluish tint may come from the use of camper fuel as a solvent. Green meth could be made from green gun scrubber, purchased in sporting goods and hardware stores. Powdered meth can sometimes smell like rotten eggs or urine, and has a bitter taste. A meth lab can be identified by these odors.


The l stands for levo, from the Latin word laevus that means “on the left side.” The Latin word dexter means “on the right side,” and is represented by a d.

Figure The chemical structure of d-methamphetamine and l-methamphetamine are mirror images of each other.


Known as ice, glass, and crystal, these names describe the form of meth that looks like clear, chunky ice or fragments of glass of various sizes. This form tends to be colorless, but can have blue-white coloring. The smoke produced by heating these glassy looking fragments for inhalation is odorless in most cases. From now on, the book will identify this type of meth as crystal meth or ice.


The least common form of meth is as a pill or tablet. One type of meth tablet is reddish-brown and weighs about 90 milligrams (about one-fourth the size of an aspirin). Because there is no regulation or quality control for illegal drugs, these pills vary widely in strength. For example, in 2000, an illegal shipment of these pills was confiscated in California. Only about 25 percent of each pill was actually meth. The majority was caffeine.


The way meth enters the body determines its effects. The crystalline powder can be snorted, eaten, or smoked. It can be dissolved in a beverage and drunk, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. The rock-like form of meth is smoked. Pills are swallowed.

Smoking and injecting

Smoking and injecting meth delivers a fast and intoxicating high. Meth’s effects are felt within 10 to 30 seconds. Users describe this immediate and intense rush or “flash” as extremely pleasurable. This sensation lasts only a few minutes, but the meth user can still feel a sense of euphoric intoxication for 12 to 14 hours or more. After the initial rush, there is typically a state of high agitation known as “tweaking” that in some individuals can lead to rages and violent behavior.

When crystal meth is heated, it gives off vapors (smoke) that can be inhaled through the lungs. Ice is smoked in a glass pipe or an empty light bulb, and it leaves either a milky or black residue inside the glass, depending on the way it was made. The residue left in the glass can be re-smoked.

When meth in crystalline powder form is heated, it easily dissolves in water or alcohol and can then be injected. Meth injection is as risky as using any other intravenous drug. Sharing needles can spread HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), as well as hepatitis B and C.

These routes bypass the digestive process and directly travel to the central nervous system (the brain) via the bloodstream. Because of this fast-acting and direct route to the nervous system, high doses of inhaled and injected drugs can be more harmful and more addicting over time. In addition, an addictive cycle is generated as the user seeks to re-experience that initial short-lived rush by taking meth with greater doses and frequency.

A Cuppa Joe

Caffeine is the most widely used legal stimulant in the world. On a daily basis, 80 percent of Americans ingest some form of caffeine. The average adult consumption is about two cups of coffee per day.

Source Caffeine Content (approximate)
Coffee, brewed (drip) 60-180 mg per 8-oz cup
Coffee, instant 30-120 mg per 8-oz cup
Coffee, decaffeinated 2-5 mg per 8-oz cup
Tea, iced 67-76 mg per 12-ozcup
Chocolate milk 2-7 mg per 8-oz cup
Milk chocolate (Hershey’s) 10 mg per 1.5 oz
Jolt 71 mg per 12 oz
Coca-Cola 46 mg per 12 oz
Mountain Dew 54 mg per 12 oz
7-Up, ginger ale, most root beers 0 mg per 12 oz

Eating and Snorting

Oral and intranasal meth use produces a long-lasting euphoria — a high — but not an intense rush. This high can last anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. It takes more time for the high to take effect as well, about three to five minutes for snorting and about 15 to 20 minutes for oral ingestion. Snorting crystalline meth powder is also called railing, and with long-term use can damage the inside of the nose or cause infection. Users of low doses of meth taken orally obtain effects within 30 to 60 minutes. The euphoric effects are less intense after eating or snorting meth, and require more time to take effect, because the drug first has to go through the digestive process before it hits the bloodstream to be carried to the central nervous system.


How does methamphetamine get out of the body? The average half-life of methamphetamine is about 12 hours. This means it takes about 12 hours for half the amount of meth snorted, swallowed, smoked, or injected to be processed and excreted through the body’s natural exits, such as through sweating, urinating, or moving the bowels.

The main way that meth exits the body is through renal excretion, also known as urination. The pH of the user’s urine will determine how quickly the meth exits the body. The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the urine, or any solution, for that matter, where two or more substances are mixed together. The more acidic the urine, the faster meth will exit the body. Acidic urine can speed up the exit process to seven hours instead of 12. Basic (alkaline) urine can slow down meth’s excretion by increasing its half-life to 30 hours.

Some illegal meth users drink vinegar or cranberry juice, both of which are very acidic, to try to cleanse themselves of methamphetamines before a drug test. However, even low doses of meth produce a positive urine test for about 24 hours after taking the drug. High-dose users can test positive for meth for two to four days after their last use.


It is important to note that any substance — whether an illegal drug or something like everyday water — can benefit or harm a person depending upon its quantity and potency (strength). High doses of a substance can produce very different effects from low doses. Water is necessary for human life, but drinking extreme amounts of it in a short period of time disrupts the electrolyte and other critical balances in the body with negative consequences. The methamphetamine drug Desoxyn is beneficial at low doses, but high doses of meth can cause violence and psychosis. Also, size does matter: A person who weighs 100 pounds may experience deleterious or even fatal effects from the same amount of drug taken without adverse effect by someone who weighs 175 pounds.


The purer the drug, the more potent it is. The more potent a drug, the more intense are its effects. The more intensely a drug effects someone, the more it potentially addictive it is. Superlabs produce the purest and most potent meth because they have trained chemists making the drug. Depending on the method used, the purity of the meth from superlabs ranges from 80 to 90 percent. Small-scale labs produce meth with much lower purity.

Ice is purer than powdered meth. To make more money, powdered meth is diluted, or “cut,” with other ingredients and chemicals. This decreases the purity but increases the total amount of product available to sell. In 2005, the purity of street meth averaged about 54 percent, and contained such substances as baking soda, Epsom salts, quinine (a malaria drug), mannitol (a sugar alternative), ether (a toxic solvent), insecticides (a poison), monosodium glutamate (a preservative), photo developer (a toxic solvent), and strychnine (a poison). Heavy meth users may even prefer these additives because the impurities can give a more intense rush. It is important to remember that it is never possible to know the exact strength or purity of the meth, even if the meth is obtained from a familiar supplier.

The purity of meth has risen and fallen over the years. This reflects a basic supply and demand market. When the key chemicals needed to make meth are not as readily available and therefore are more costly, purity falls because the cooks need to bolster production by adding other substances to the meth. In true market fashion, the price usually goes up during these times. This pattern has occurred each time the government has regulated meth’s precursors over the years.

The price of meth also depends upon the amount purchased and where in the country it is sold. Overall, the price of meth has declined since the 1980s, but for illicit meth manufacturers, it is still a profitable business. A superlab making an average amount of meth — 100 pounds — can earn the manufacturer about $4 million when sold on the street. For the smaller labs, an investment of about $1,500 in ingredients can be turned into $15,000 in meth sales, a tenfold increase.


An average dose of meth is about a quarter of a gram. Because of ice’s intensity, smaller doses provide bigger highs; a gram of ice can provide 10 to 25 hits (doses) of meth. Heavy meth users take three or more grams of meth at a time. Notice how an ounce of gold compares with an ounce of meth.

Dose Weight Cost
Quarter 1/4 gram (0.01 ounce) $20-$80
Half 1/2 gram (0.02 ounce) $40-$80
Gram 1 gram (0.04 ounce) $60-$300*
Teenager 1/16 ounce (1.8 grams) $120-$500
8-Ball 1/8 ounce (3.5 grams) $100-$250**
Ounce of Meth 1.00 ounce $1,200-$1,700
Ounce of Gold 1.00 ounce $500
Pound of Ice 16 ounces $9,000-$13,000

*Highest retail prices for one gram: Honolulu, Miami, Detroit, and New York City
**Lowest retail prices for one-eighth ounce: Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix

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