Kristie M. Torres, Amanda I. Rodríguez, Isabel Castellanos, Patricia Torres, and Alexander Acevedo

University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, San Juan, PR.


Methamphetamine is a widely abused psychostimulant with the second-highest prevalence of drug abuse after cannabis, with approximately thirty-five million users worldwide. The molecule was first synthesized from ephedrine in 1893 by a Japanese scientist as a medical treatment for narcolepsy, asthma, and as a weight-loss drug. Later in 1919, Akira Ogata crystallized methamphetamine by reducing ephedrine using red phosphorus and iodine. Methamphetamine causes an increase on catecholamine extracellular levels on the nervous system by releasing them independently of nerve cell firing, by reversing their transport, or inhibiting their reuptake. In humans, methamphetamine produces immediate physiological and behavioral effects such as increased alertness, irregular heart rate, euphoria, and insomnia. Moreover, prolonged use of methamphetamine causes changes in the brain’s dopamine system, affecting areas associated with coordination, emotion, and memory. Therefore, continued abuse of this substance can lead to serious outcomes like paranoia, hallucinations, violent behavior, impaired verbal learning, and in some cases, death. Approximately 52.9% of the people with methamphetamine use disorder result in overdose and other serious health issues. Despite this, due to the drug’s addictive potential, the estimated methamphetamine use among adults during 2015-2018 was 6.6 per 1,000 individuals. Also, methamphetamine-related admissions to addiction treatment centers increased from 15.1% in 2008 to 23.6% in 2017. Some medications have found promising results in studies with animal models as a treatment for methamphetamine addiction. Also, recent studies show that a combination of Bupropion and Naltrexone helps treat methamphetamine addiction in humans.

Nevertheless, preventing initial exposure to the drug is equally important as finding effective treatments. Hence, understanding the biological mechanisms of methamphetamine, the trends of its uses, and its risk factors serves to raise awareness and thereby, prevent its addiction.

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