Crystal meth craze comes to Britain via Hollywood

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The Independent Online

It's one of the most addictive and destructive drugs on the American black market, and now it's arrived in Britain. Crystal meth, the new Hollywood glamour drug, has begun surfacing in nightclubs and bars in London and Manchester.

It's one of the most addictive and destructive drugs on the American black market, and now it's arrived in Britain. Crystal meth, the new Hollywood glamour drug, has begun surfacing in nightclubs and bars in London and Manchester.

The trend is already causing serious concern among police, health experts and charity workers. Crystal meth, or crystalline methylamphetamine hydrochloride, is manufactured from a cocktail of cheap chemicals - often including fertilisers - and has a number of particularly nasty side-effects. According to US researchers, these can range from the sudden loss of teeth to a rapid descent into severe psychotic disorder.

Users claim that the drug - many times more potent than ecstasy or cocaine - can give an artificial high for as long as 10 hours, as well as causing dramatic weight loss. The severe come-down, however, make ithighly addictive as users seek another hit.

Dr John Marsden, senior lecturer in Addictive Behaviour at London's Institute of Psychiatry, said the emergence of the drug was "a real worry", and added: "We've seen early warning signs of this as a potentially destructive trend.

"It's an ugly little character with a severe dependence liability. As a neurotoxic, it literally destroys the dopamine neurons in the brain - the chemicals that control movement and pleasure."

Over the past year, crystal meth has become the must-have drug within Hollywood's entertainment industry, to the extent that Los Angeles police talk of an epidemic. Usually sold as a brittle crystalline powder, but also produced in pill form, crystal meth can be smoked, swallowed or injected. Its street value in Britain is around £40 per quarter-gram, making it a premium narcotic.

"It gives you a huge burst of energy, but it destroys your body and mind. It can do horrific damage, burning the body from within," said Tom Riley, of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We've seen 22-year-old users all shrivelled up and looking like they're 50."

The drug, also referred to as "ice", "crank" and "yabba", was first used in Thailand, Japan and Mexico. It is now feared it is being produced in Holland and Belgium.

According to some observers, the drug has become popular with certain elements of the gay community, raising fears of an increase in unprotected sex. Matthew Hodson of the gay men's health charity GMFA, said: "Friends of mine say they have taken it or been offered it. It is a huge problem in New York."