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Methamphetamines in the US and Japan


Similar to many other illicit substances, methamphetamines were once used legally for health and performance-related purposes. However, the place of methamphetamine in the medical world is still controversial as several countries continue to view it as a medication. This drug with a long history has severe and long-lasting effects on one’s body. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most popular drugs in the world and the most recognized synthetic illegal substance. Methamphetamines’ history and positive pharmacological effects provide an explanation for its popularity, especially in the countries under investigation – the United States and Japan.

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Methamphetamine’s predecessor, amphetamine, was created in 1887 in Germany (Patterson). Later, methamphetamine was synthesized in Japan – first, by Nagai Nagayoshi in 1893 and then by Akira Ogata in 1919 (Patterson). The two dates are distinguished because the second type of creation was much more efficient than the previous attempts, making methamphetamines available for production. Nonetheless, the drug only gained recognition during World War II, when it was used as a performance-enhancing stimulant by German and Japanese pilots (Patterson). At that time, methamphetamine came in the form of tablets, and it was distributed legally by pharmaceutical companies.

After the war, in the 1950s and 1960s, the methamphetamines gained popularity in the United States, being marketed as a potential treatment of obesity (Patterson). Furthermore, it was also believed that methamphetamines help with depression, and many students, athletes, and drivers enjoyed the stimulant effects of the drug. In the 1970s, as doctors started to see the drug’s negative effects, methamphetamine was given the status of a schedule II-controlled substance (Khani et al. 2). In Japan, the drug supply, once reserved for soldiers, became available to the public, and the use of methamphetamines soared in the 1950s. Later, the drugs were outlawed completely due to their harmful effects.

Country Comparison: Policies

Currently, such countries as the US and Japan have different rules surrounding the manufacture, possession, sale, and transportation of methamphetamines. First of all, it is crucial to note that Japan views all methamphetamine-containing drugs as illegal. Thus, all dealers and users are treated as criminal offenders, which charges varying from years to a lifetime of imprisonment (Wada 66).

In the US, the same can be said about illegal methamphetamine that is not prescribed by a healthcare provider (Khani et al. 1). Nonetheless, as it is a schedule II-controlled substance, one may legally use methamphetamines as a treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It should be noted that US laws extend the prohibition onto the chemicals that are used to create methamphetamines – such as pseudoephedrine (Patterson). This comparison shows that the policies are strict in both countries, which suggests that other strategies may be necessary to lower the drug’s use.

Country Comparison: Vulnerable Groups

Methamphetamine comes in different forms, which makes it desirable and available to many groups. It is water-soluble, meaning that the drug can be injected. Other ways of use include swallowing, smoking, and inhaling, as methamphetamines come in the forms of powder or crystals (Patterson). Historically, people who wanted to enhance their performance and concentration were among the main users of methamphetamines; other groups included people who wanted to lose weight. Currently, according to statistics, adults over the age of 26 are most likely to use methamphetamine, with the majority of users in the US being white (“Meth Use Statistics”).

Moreover, due to methamphetamine’s effect of euphoria and increased confidence, it is likely to be used by seekers of unusual experiences. Thus, one can pose that white adults, both women and men, who are highly sociable and interested in new experiences, are at most risk of using this drug in the US. In Japan, however, methamphetamine epidemics were related to teenagers and young adults, making them the vulnerable population (Wada 67).

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Interesting Statistics

As stated previously, methamphetamines are still widely popular both in Japan and the US. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, in Japan, about 75% of all arrests related to drugs are for methamphetamine abuse (Patterson). Approximately half a million Japanese admitted to using methamphetamine at least once (Patterson). Another interesting fact is that Japan went through three methamphetamine epidemics, lasting from 1945 to 1957, from 1970 to 1994, and from 1995 to the 2010s (Wada 62-67). This suggests a trend in drug abuse that shifts from one chemical to another (see fig. 1). In the US, more than 14,5 million adults admitted to using methamphetamine at least once. About 90% of all users are over 26 years old; almost 80% of them are white (Patterson).

The number of arrests for drug-related offenses in Japan.
Fig. 1. The number of arrests for drug-related offenses in Japan (Wada 63).

Pharmacological Effects: Desirable and Adverse

In low doses, methamphetamine acts as a stimulant and an aphrodisiac, elevating one’s mood, increasing concentration and energy, reducing appetite. In high doses, however, the effects include anxiety and psychosis. At the same time, there are many adverse effects that can appear over short- and long-term use. For example, the loss of appetite can be viewed as both a positive and a negative outcome. Other physical signs are excessive sweating, dry mouth, high blood pressure and body temperature, diarrhea, dizziness, twitching, headache, and many more. Psychological effects also depend on the dose, duration of use, and one’s personal health. Typical outcomes are dysphoria, libido changes, insomnia, irritability, desire to repeat activities regardless of their purpose, anxiety, and suicidal ideations (Paratz et al. 327).

Long-Term Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms

When one is using methamphetamine for a long time, some serious changes in health and behavior can occur. One of the most notable consequences is the so-called “meth mouth” – severe and rapid tooth decay and oral sores (Khani et al. 3). Other risks include skin infection and psychosis from which many users do not recover fully. The severity of withdrawal symptoms also depends on the dose and duration of drug use. Most of them are the opposite of methamphetamine’s desired effects. Withdrawal can last up to four weeks, and its first signs occur within hours of the last dose.


Methamphetamine has high psychological dependence as the majority of its effects are linked to the release of dopamine. This drug has a high likelihood that a person will develop withdrawal symptoms, thus making people instantly dependent (Khani et al. 4). Currently, both only non-pharmacological treatments are available as no specific medications can successfully help the addiction. Some drugs can be used to address symptoms, including anticonvulsants and antipsychotics. Japan, however, does not have an established therapeutic system as the use of methamphetamine is highly criminalized (Wada 69).


Methamphetamine is a widely abused drug that has a long history worldwide. First perceived as a stimulant, it is now recognized as a dangerous substance that is controlled and restricted in most parts of the world. However, the popularity of methamphetamine is not decreasing substantially, and its short-term effects are still desired by many. Both in the US and Japan, methamphetamine continues to be a significant problem, although different communities are affected.


Khani, Yousef, et al. “Investigating the Trend and Severity of Withdrawal Symptoms in Methamphetamine Users Amongst Homeless Addicts.” International Journal of High Risk Behaviors and Addiction, vol. 7, no. 1, 2018, 1-7.

Meth Use Statistics Around the World.Delphi Health Group, 2019. Web.

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Paratz, Elizabeth D., et al. “The cardiac complications of methamphetamines.” Heart, Lung and Circulation, vol. 25, no. 4, 2016, pp. 325-332.

Patterson, Eric. “Methamphetamine History and Statistics.” DrugAbuse. Web.

Wada, Kiyoshi. “The History and Current State of Drug Abuse in Japan.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1216, no. 1, 2011, pp. 62-72.

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