Methamphetamine in Popular Culture

By Dr. Dru

Crystal methamphetamine is known by many other names that are contingent upon regional vernacular. Meth is also referred to as "ice, crank, speed, bump, amp, uppers, tweak, bennies, dexies, glass, bitch," and a long list of other slang but fitting terminologies that seem to depict its powerful punch. Meth has been around for a century or so, yet its different usages have varied through the years. In the 1930s, meth was sold over-the-counter to treat fever, asthma, and the common cold. It eventually made its way into the pharmaceutical industry and became marketable by doctors as a prescription "pick-me-up." During WW II, the drug was used in pill form to keep soldiers on the alert, and by the 1950's, word-of-mouth seemed to be enough to kick-start the energy levels of truckers, college students, and time-strapped housewives respectively. The drug fit in quite nicely with the 60s counterculture movement, and it only picked up speed from there. The 70s came along and greeted crystal methamphetamine with open arms, mixing with the company of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and even more so, combining it with heroin to make a dicey and dangerous variation of the speedball. Meth has been ingested by smoking, swallowing, snorting, inhaling, and injection as well, yet in rare cases it has been inserted rectally. How could a drug such as this stay hidden for decades while remaining in plain sight? No single answer to this question exists, yet the facts and history in regards to methamphetamine are now preceded by its reputation, a reputation worthy of perhaps a distinguished award; not a Grammy or an Oscar, but a "Razzie" instead.

Crystal methamphetamine and its wide variety of uses managed to stay under the radar and out of the establishment's eye, that is, until President Richard Nixon officially announced the war on drugs in the early 1970s. Methamphetamine, inclusively labeled in part this war, started making its way towards the front pages as a catalyst, being wedged in as a proscriptive entity, which increased its popularity insofar that it began making appearances in the pop culture forum. From medicated to mediated, meth is thematically topical; it is used as a gratuitous hook in a number of songs, movies, and small screen productions. Meth in popular culture dates back to the late twentieth century, getting an earlier start than originally discovered, when song lyrics became a suitable medium for cultural awareness.

One of the first songs written about crystal meth came from a band by the name of Deep Purple. Their 1971/72 album, Machine Head, included the track HighwayStar, a song that purposely and purposefully described the inner thoughts of the singer's persona while under the influence of methamphetamine: "Nobody's gonna take my head, I got speed inside my brain," clearly defines the intended dual meaning, as opposed to the previous decade, when lyricists used metaphors to mask the true meaning of otherwise hidden messages, perhaps creating an aesthetic for the listener. Nevertheless, this particular tune has been rated as one of the most popular driving songs in the history of music. Highway Star has also been covered by pop and rock artists including Chickenfoot, Dream Theater, and Buck Cherry; YouTube features numerous versions of the song as well, ranging from inspired garage band amateurs to renowned recording artists. During the time when this song was written, drug treatment facilities existed, yet they were far and few between.

Also from the early 70s came another high-strung melody, Radar Love, written by the members of Golden Earring. The third stanza is merely a snippet, yet it tugs on the notion of stimulants by reading into the era as well as reading between the lines:

The radio is playing some forgotten song
Brenda Lee's "Coming on Strong"
The road has got me hypnotized
And I'm speeding into a new sunrise

This song is also rated among the top 10 driving songs of all time, and it has been covered by rock artists including U2, Def Leppard, Carlos Santana, and REM. The song has also been implemented into quite a few TV programs, such as The Simpsons, My Name is Earl, The X-Files, and Beverly Hills, 90210. Radar Love has also been used in movie productions, including Wayne's World, Pushing Tin, and The Break-Up. The lyrics can be argued as ambiguous in the least, yet the rules of individual interpretation apply, especially when tackling the world of meth in popular culture.

The band Suicidal Tendencies got a little more confrontational when they came up with Feeding the Addiction, a song gaining attention in the early 90s that dealt with drug use in general, yet one verse in particular hones in on the disastrous effects of smoking meth:

You haven't eaten in days and your gums are bleeding
Swearing to God the pipe's all you're needing
It's robbing or stealing or turning a trick
You do whatever it takes to suck on the Devil's dick

It's hard not to notice that, over time, perspectives in pop culture started to change concerning methamphetamine addiction and how abusing the drug could lead to a string of highly unfortunate consequences. Many other songs have been written about meth, possibly inspiring the visual aspect of the drug's heavy impact on today's society.

In 2002 meth hit the big screen with the critically acclaimed Spun, a film that somewhat accurately portrayed the inner weavings of the crystal methamphetamine world and the gruesome downside of methamphetamine addiction. Jason Schwartzman, the late Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke, Mena Suvari, and John Leguizamo delivered strong performances while depicting the brutal and unrelenting aftermath of being ramped up on meth for days at a time. Eric Roberts, Rob Halford, and Ron Jeremy also made cameo appearances in the film.

In 2005 the movie Iowa cast two young lovers who decided to start their own meth lab and plunged into the dangerous world of distribution.

During that same year, the makers of the documentary film Ice Age delved directly into the core of the growing epidemic by filming meth addicts in their powerfully ugly world of methamphetamine addiction.

Rock Bottom: Gay Men & Meth, released in 2006, is a short documentary that follows the lives of seven gay men who struggle with their addictions to meth. The presentation not only offers a truthfully bold look into the struggles of these diverse individuals, but also how the drug itself is highly addictive and that it takes no prisoners. Not only has meth entered the pop culture world through cinema, it has also spread through the veins of many developed nations and continues to grab the attention of cinematographers.

The TV series Breaking Bad premiered in 2008. The story involves a chemistry teacher who has been diagnosed with lung cancer. In order to secure his family's financial future, he decides to start manufacturing and selling meth with one of his former students. The show's success continues to thrive and has been critically acclaimed, winning six Emmy awards to date.

The A&E (Arts & Entertainment) series, Intervention, has aired many episodes involving meth addicts who can't seem to seek drug treatment on their own. The program is ultimately designed to offer drug treatment for the addicted; in most cases, meth users accept help through the support of their families, friends, and the various drug treatment programs offered as well.

Even though crystal meth has managed to make its way into the pop culture arena for decades, there is nothing glamorous about the drug. What may originally start out as recreational use often turns into full-blown addiction, which in turn espouses emotional and physical problems, not only for users, but by the ripple effect that creates hardship for family members and friends. The world of crystal meth is easy to get sucked into; getting out isn't quite as easy. Through today's pop culture, the message to stay away from crystal meth is crystal clear. Drug treatment facilities are now a lot easier to find; these establishments have been dealing with the adverse effects of addiction for years, and their experienced staff members offer many different ways to handle the daily pressures of life without turning to drugs.

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