It is a drug with a history like no other. A favorite of an American president, a Führer, of soldiers, poets, musicians, and madmen, its subtle (yet ever more pervasive) presence delineates the twentieth century in caricature, warping and fraying the edges of the historical picture.
Amphetamine was first synthesized in Germany by a Romanian chemist named Lazar Edeleanu. The year was 1887, two years before the birth of the drug’s most notorious proponent and addict, Adolph Hitler. In 1919, a Japanese pharmacologist, Akira Ogata, developed a derivative of amphetamine by adding the methyl molecule, making methamphetamine, for which there was still no useful purpose; it was simply more potent and easier to make than its parent drug. For thirty years amphetamine was a substance in search of an ailment – until the 1920s when it was discovered that this crystalline powder was useful in treating asthma, hay fever and depression. Being water-soluble, it was ideal for injections. In 1932 the first amphetamine was marketed by the Smith Kline and French Company in the form of an over-the-counter inhaler. This was Benzedrine, a bronchial dilator designed for the treatment of respiratory congestion. The inhaler was a huge success, prompting the pharmacological community as a whole to come up with more than forty uses for the product. In 1937, for instance, it was found to be useful in treating narcolepsy, a spontaneous sleeping disorder.
That same year, amphetamine became available by prescription in tablet form. The American Medical Association’s Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry noted that, “A feeling of exhilaration and sense of well-being was a consistent effect, and patients volunteered that there had been a definite increase in mental activity and efficiency.”
But it was the bronchial inhaler that became the secret hit, one that would foretell the drug’s broader future. By the lights of one study, each inhaler contained the equivalent of fifty-six amphetamine tablets. During the Great Depression, people with no medical condition (such as jazz great Charlie Parker) found there was a pleasant, long-lasting high to be attained by pulling off the nasal strips and dunking them in their coffee. Prohibition may have made the sale and consumption of alcohol illegal, but amphetamine was as legal as a glazed donut.
During this time, a full spectrum of amphetamine’s medical uses were slowly being revealed, and in some cases, invented. An obvious use was found relatively early on in treating obesity, as amphetamine simultaneously lays waste to the appetite and fires the metabolism. Near the end of the 1930s it was also found to help a certain category of unruly children who fared poorly in school. Though known to stimulate the central nervous system, children with what would come to be known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were actually calmed by small doses of the drug, and their ability to concentrate mysteriously improved.
Thus amphetamine and methamphetamine found their ailments. They also found the perfectly healthy fan, the recreational user among the down-and-out in a world growing ever bleaker. But it would not merely be an American drug. Amphetamine was a filament of pure light illuminating a globe on the brink of war. Among the ruins of the approaching Apocalypse it would establish for itself an entirely new role.
crazy town: money. marriage. meth.
Sterling Braswell has two tickets to crazy town: one is his riveting personal account and the other is a thorough global history.
Sterling Braswell was a millionaire—palatial ranch, stock options, and money in the bank. Then he met his high school sweetheart after not seeing her for over ten years. With their love rekindled, they were married. Life was beautiful. They had no real worries, a lovely son, and a bright future.
Then she started using meth.
The craziness of the next few years would leave Sterling almost completely broke—financially, emotionally, and spiritually—and nearly murdered.
- Carl Ip on “Author Sterling Braswell weaves an insightful history of the worldwide methamphetamine epidemic …”
- Loans Lossen on “Author Sterling Braswell weaves an insightful history of the worldwide methamphetamine epidemic …”
- stacyb139 on The Calm After the Storm
- Phylicia Aluise on The Weekender Raves About Crazy Town!
- William on The Calm After the Storm