P2P methamphetamine, or super meth, is now the most prevalent chemical form of meth in the US. And it's changing the face of addiction.

February 14, 2023

When U.S. drug legislation pushed ephedrine and pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters in 2006, meth cartels completely reinvented their processes. The result was a more potent, more plentiful, and more affordable version of standard methamphetamine. And it started with an old method that had been nearly forgotten. This was the birth of today’s super meth.

Also known as P2P methamphetamine, this drug has become increasingly popular over the past decade due to its purity and the intense, long-lasting highs experienced by those who use it.

The popularity of this meth variant has become a significant public health concern and is linked to numerous adverse physical and psychological health effects, ranging from extreme aggression to paranoia. Unfortunately, without efforts from law enforcement, public health organizations, and drug rehab centers, super meth's grip on society will only grow.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Super Meth?

Super meth, also known as P2P meth, is a variant of standard methamphetamine that uses a different precursor for production. Instead of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, super meth is manufactured with phenyl-2-propanone (phenylacetone).

What Makes Super Meth Different from Standard Meth?

Beyond the precursors and methods, the key differences are price (71% less expensive), potency and purity (up to 97% pure with matching potency), and prevalence (by 2012, 91% of DEA samples were manufactured using the P2P method). This combination of key factors makes super meth far more available, much less expensive, and much more addictive and destructive.

Are P2P Meth and Crystal Meth the Same?

Crystal methamphetamine is a purified form of standard meth, with a purity of at least 80%. Uncut super meth and P2P meth are essentially a new form of crystal meth, but the purity and potency is now above 90% in most samples.

Complicating this increased potency is its inexpensive manufacturing process, which makes P2P meth considerably less expensive than pre-2006 crystal meth.

What Are the Dangers of Super Meth?

Standard methamphetamine was considered a “party” drug, creating euphoric and energizing highs that lasted around 12 hours or less. Super meth instead creates a stupefying high, leaving users incapacitated for 24 hours or more.

There are additional threats of organ damage, decreased brain function, and overdoses that often lead to death. These effects also take smaller doses to achieve than standard methamphetamine.

Can the Sweat Patch Detect P2P Meth?

Because the parent drug and metabolites are identical, the Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch can detect super meth with the same accuracy as standard meth. Our 24-hour detection is just as effective for this new threat.

How Does Super Meth Affect Recovery Programs?

Super meth’s higher purity and potency make it a much more dangerous substance than standard meth. In its uncut form, the side effects are more devastating to physical and mental health, and the recovery time prior to starting behavioral treatment is much longer.

Additionally, there are no chemical treatments available at this time. Simply put, the treatment community is still working to meet the unique needs of P2P meth use recovery.

How Does the Sweat Patch Help Recovery Programs for Super Meth Users?

Without chemical treatments, and with an extended wait time before behavioral treatment options are possible, the need for sobriety is much more urgent. Alongside positive behavior modification treatment plans, continuous accountability plays a key role in recovery.

The Sweat Patch provides this accountability through its tamper-evident design, uninterrupted collection of samples, and long-term wearability of up to 10 days or more. These specific benefits allow treatment programs to bridge many of the new treatment gaps that P2P meth use has created.

The Origins of Super Meth

Methamphetamine has been widely produced since the 1920s. There are several different processes that meth manufacturers have used throughout the last 100 years, but the most prevalent process from the 1980s until 2005 used ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as the precursors.

That changed in 2006 when the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 was signed into law, making pseudoephedrine and ephedrine much more difficult to purchase in larger quantities. Many meth labs were dismantled throughout the U.S., but Mexican super meth labs started experimenting with a long-abandoned method that used a different precursor.

This was the birth of Mexican super meth and the start of a new epidemic in methamphetamine use.

The history of super meth starts back in 2006, when the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 was signed into law, pushing meth production into Mexico and changing the production method to P2P meth instead of pseudoepehdrine and ephedrine methods.

Same Drug, New Formula

Super meth is produced with a much more readily available chemical precursor than ephedrine. This version of meth utilizes phenyl-2-propanone, or P2P, which is commonly used for several legal industrial applications, instead of ephedrine, a plant-derived compound used as a decongestant and stimulant. Also known as phenylacetone, this compound has long been used to create nasal decongestants like Benzedrex (propylhexedrine) and to create cleaning agents and stain removers.

Less Expensive, Higher Yields

Because of the chemical simplicity of phenyl-2-propanone, manufacturers use several processes to make this illicit drug. And because the ingredients used to make super meth are so inexpensive and readily available, a 50% yield of P2P (500mL produced per 1kg of phenylacetic acid) is considered cost-effective. However, other methods can produce as much as 90% yields, with relatively little heat and no special equipment to achieve the chemical reaction.

More Prevalent and Potent Than Past Formulas

Super meth has absolutely flooded the market. In fact, the DEA found P2P meth in 96% of their samples by 2012, only 6 years after ephedrine was restricted. Border seizures have also exponentially increased year-over-year, rising from only 50 pounds seized at the U.S.-Mexico border in 1998 to almost 131,000 pounds in 2022. Mexican super meth lab cartels have seen profits skyrocket as they produce enough P2P meth to crash the established market value and close down small meth labs across the United States.

As super meth production ramped up, seizures for meth at the US-Mexico border skyrocketed. Today, the US market is saturated with p2p meth from Mexico's cartels.

Sources: DEA.gov (NDTA reports for 2008, 2013, 2020); DEA Press Release on 2022 seizures.

How Is Super Meth Different?

The chemical makeup of any methamphetamine includes two separate isomerisms (variants) of the main chemical compound: d-methamphetamine and l-methamphetamine. The d-meth causes euphoric psychoactive effects, while the l-meth typically increases heart rate but does little to provide a high.

Meth purity, then, is a measure of the ratio between the d-meth and l-meth within a sample. In recent drug seizures, l-methamphetamine is almost completely absent in P2P meth.

Higher Purity, Higher Potency

With as much as 93% purity (up from an average of 39% purity in 2008), P2P meth is dangerously potent, even in small amounts. Law enforcement agencies and the United States DEA note higher overdose death rates with super meth than ephedrine-derived meth. Likewise, this new form of methamphetamine is considerably more addictive, providing more intense highs in less time that reportedly last up to 24 hours with a single dose.

Greater Risk of Physical and Psychological Effects

Alongside the more intense and longer-lasting high, super meth causes more severe physical and mental effects. These effects include increased blood pressure and respiratory rate, elevated body temperature, and the potential for heart attacks or strokes, to name a few.

But unlike past iterations of meth, P2P meth’s reduced concentration of l-methamphetamine eliminates the early physical warning signs of overdose, including elevated heart rate. The result is that overdose rates are increasing across the country.

Both the physical and mental side effects of super meth can be long-lasting, sometimes even irreparable. Users not only experience organ stress and potential failure, but they may also find themselves in the midst of paranoid episodes, psychosis, hallucinations (frequent reports of the feeling of bugs crawling under the skin), and memory loss.

Side Effects of Super Meth (Methamphetamine synthesized with phenyl-2-propanone)

Physical Side Effects Psychological Side Effects
Jumbled Speech Psychosis
Increased Blood Pressure Violent Paranoia
Increased Respiratory Rate Isolating Behavior
Elevated Body Temperature Hallucinations
Insomnia Delusions
Cardiovascular Issues (heart attack, stroke) Massive Memory Loss
Tremors and Convulsions Anxiety
Death Aggression and Violence

Sources: FindAddictionRehabs.com and AmericanAddictionCenters.org

What Is the Social Impact of Super Meth?

In both Tucson, AZ, and Atlanta, GA, P2P meth has become ubiquitous. But it’s more than just our southern cities that suffer: the easy and prolific production of P2P methamphetamine has made it readily available in almost every corner of the country. And one journalist who has reported on super meth nationwide, Sam Quinones, believes it’s a driving factor for increased homelessness throughout the nation.

Increased Isolating Responses to Effects

Old meth formulations, according to Quinones, were "kind of a euphoric drug, a party drug, a social drug, making you want to spend a lot of time around people and so on." But the new formulation is just the opposite. "On the contrary, what it seems to breed is a very sinister kind of schizophrenia, horrible paranoia, great amounts of hallucinations, and with that…comes homelessness."

Some users have said that on older versions of meth, they could hold jobs, keep payments current for housing and transportation, and generally maintain their lives. But once super meth became their preferred substance, their social connection to sober individuals was severed by these psychotic and paranoid episodes.

Homelessness and Loss of Support from Community

According to clinical psychologist Nicolas Taylor, this separation drives further addiction and socioeconomic struggles. Without a sober support system, users will instead separate themselves from people who could help them overcome. And Quinones supports this assertion in his field reporting.

In an interview with Dave Miller of OPB News, Quinones states:

"Homelessness is a complicated thing, and there are various kinds of homelessness, but the tent encampment homeless, I would submit, has enormously to do with drug addiction and primarily nowadays with this new meth coming out. It is very well associated with this now."

More Affected Communities Than Ever Before

The reach of super meth has now expanded to the upper east coast, where meth abuse is still a new epidemic compared to other parts of the United States. Even more concerning is that much of the supply of P2P meth is laced with deadly fentanyl. It's a common practice, especially in the production of counterfeit Adderall pills. In fact, DEA agents have reported that as many as four of every ten fake pills seized today contain lethal doses of meth, fentanyl, or both.

This new mental and social health crisis will have far-reaching impacts on both communities and the justice system. And how each of these entities responds will determine how much damage super meth will have in the future.

Teens are being exposed to fentanyl through vaping. Here's how drug courts should respond.

With its higher yields and purity, P2P meth has saturated US markets, including massive increases in seizures nationwide. In the Omaha Division of the DEA alone, agents have seen an almost 500% increase in seizures between 2005 and 2019.

How the Sweat Patch Combats the Abuse of Super Meth

Our nation depends on law enforcement and courts to stop the spread of this destructive new meth variant. Improved treatment-based sentencing, rehabilitation, and user accountability within the judicial system will help this epidemic lose steam. And that accountability will require systems and methods that aid recovery and reintegration vs. punishment and incarceration for super meth users.

One proven accountability measure is consistent drug screening. Recovery is not a straight path, and relapse is a common problem. Judges and case workers can help those suffering from drug addiction and dependence by setting routine drug screenings that provide accountability and an incentive for staying clean. Drug screening provides transparency for behavioral modification therapies, including contingency management and motivational enhancement therapies, when used with counseling and community support measures.

Most drug screening methods, however, come with critical roadblocks to consistency and accountability. Urinalysis is incredibly invasive of the individual's privacy, and several testing methods require repeat appointments to record substance use accurately. With many court orders requiring up to three screenings per week, people working towards stability will likely struggle to meet the demands on their schedules without sacrificing their financial stability.

Additionally, family care becomes a concern when in-person observation is necessary for accurate testing. The PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch circumvents all of these issues. Its design allows courts and case workers to continuously monitor drug use for up to seven to ten days, or longer, between appointments for specimen collection. The Sweat Patch is a perfect solution for those with housing, job, or transportation insecurities.

Why Is Continuous Screening Important for Super Meth Users?

With its addictive and life-threatening potency, relapse for super meth users poses a dangerous threat for overdose. And with a short metabolization window (around three days at most), meth use could slip through intermittent screening methods if appointments are missed or are too infrequent. The PharmChek® Sweat Patch provides continuous sample collection through insensible sweat and keeps individuals accountable for potential drug use at all times.

Through this constant accountability, case workers and judges can help prevent serious medical issues, further social and economic insecurity, and even loss of life from relapses.

Meth prices were much higher before 2012, but with the ease of production for super meth and p2p meth, today's per-dose price is lower than ever.

Sources: Justice.gov archives (2002 and 2003); DEA.gov (2005); iowa.gov (2007); ojp.gov (2008-2009); unodc.org (2010); Statista.com (2012-2017); themountaineer.com (2018); fherehab.com (2019); dovetail.org (2020); pacificsandsrecovery.com (2021); recoveryohio.org (2022); guardianrecoverynetwork.com (2023).

Super Meth Use Recovery Beyond Drug Screening

Drug screening is only one facet of a more complex recovery process. Those suffering from addiction to super meth need counseling services, psychiatric assistance, and support from a sober community to maintain their sobriety. The severe psychoactive effects of P2P methamphetamine, which lead to social isolation and psychosis in many cases, will take a comprehensive recovery program to overcome these obstacles and reconnect super meth users to the people they love most.

When considering treatment for super meth addiction, keep in mind the need for consistency, accountability, and community. Recovery programs for meth users can see progress in all these areas with the help of the PharmChek® Sweat Patch.

Featured Image Courtesy of MSN.com