Methamphetamine is notoriously popular because it fits the American can-do ethic, according to Hugh Knox, an abuse counselor at the Carson Treatment Center.
Initially, methamphetamine increases the ability to think logically as well as increasing strength, endurance and libido. People start taking this illegal drug, also known as "crank," for reasons that may seem positive, and the rush is euphoric.
"The (meth) high makes users feel invincible. They can think faster and better. It increases physical strength, and they think there's nothing they can't do," he said. Meth users often hold two jobs, he noted, and sleep little.
But he also said meth is the most physically destructive and psychologically disturbing drug. Users are in trouble the first time they try it.
The problem is endemic in Nevada's 24-hour-a-day world. Meth is common among casino and construction workers, lawyers, nurses and the middle class.
"It affects people from all walks of life," he said. "People used to think of the addict as the guy under the bridge with the bottle in the bag, but that just isn't the case anymore."
The drugs' action mimics that of the natural compounds adrenaline and dopamine which increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.
It effects the vascular system by constricting blood vessels and increases the release of sugar and fat into the blood stream. The brain is energized, and the high can last from 8 to 12 hours.
With continued use, the drug drains vitamins and minerals from the body. The increased activity level and lack of appetite makes addicts thin and anemic and immunosuppression leaves them open to infection.
When the initial positive feelings wear off the opposite feelings occur due to suppression by the drug of the normal production of adrenaline. And when the stimulation goes too high feelings of panic, paranoia, hallucinations, rage, seizures and stroke are common.
"Overdose resulting in convulsions are most common among IV methamphetamine users," Knox said. "If they shoot too much, their heart rate accelerates so quickly that it will fail. They literally blow their hearts up."
Knox, who has a history of addiction, recalled walking down the street once when high. As he looked at the people around him, he was hallucinating that he could see the blood inside their bodies.
"I thought they were all vampires. Everyone was a vampire but me, and I might as well take as many out as I can because I was going to die anyway," he said. Fortunately, he didn't act on the impulse.
"Addicts have very real hallucinations of a persecutory nature to the point that they are dangerous to those around them," Knox said. "They think they're fighting for their lives."
Most are able to function normally for awhile but gradually the drug becomes the primary focus in life. The ability to work and responsibility to the family slowly erodes and with time moral conditioning dissolves. The exaggerated libido combined with a lack of moral restraint may be responsible for the increase in child molestation, rape and violence among users.
"Users are incapable of empathy or tolerating that which goes against their will," Knox said, noting that methedrine was the drug of choice for Hitler's SS troops during World War II.