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Crystal meth: ‘Walk a little way in any direction and buy it for a trifle’

When it comes to drugs, Iranians traditionally turned to opium and heroin. But a younger generation needed to turn up the dial

Photograph: Tikke Sang via Flickr Photograph: Tikke Sang via Flickr

Photograph: Tikke Sang via Flickr Photograph: Tikke Sang via Flickr

Last modified on Tue 13 May 2014 18.13 BST

Crystal meth, known in Iran as shisheh, or crystalline glass, has in a very short time become Tehran’s drug of choice. Meth is to sedative opiates, one could say, what new Tehran is to old Tehran. Injecting meth brings a quick rush of energy: energy to keep pace with zooming inflation and attaining unimagined achievements. It boosts your self confidence so that the parade of late model Porsches becomes palatable, so that you can more easily imagine yourself the soon-to-be lucky owner of a penthouse in one of north Tehran’s residential towers. It heats up to a boil your hidden talents, letting you rise out of an expanding and indifferent crowd. It melts away the inhibitions that seemed to be the largest barrier between you and all the new sexualised human objects. It will make you optimistically elated, more so than the evening news on national TV. And without a hint of exhaustion you soon expand your domain to the latest international currency indexes and precious metal options. When you smoke meth, you become loquacious, a poet – and profuse verbiage is the currency of middle class trade in this metropolis.

The city is always ready to help. You can usually walk a short distance in any direction and purchase history’s cheapest drug at a trifle per gram. You can sprinkle a dash into your pipe, or snort it through your nostrils and inhale deep into your lungs as you promenade along Hemmat highway. The crystal meth chimes with a marching drum-roll in your head. You are finally tuned into the rhythm of the city, ready for the next 72 hours.
But Tehran has a bipolar temperament: euphoric, then sulking and dark. Too soon, your heart begins to drop, as does your body temperature. You sense your skin shrivelling onto your dry bones, you feel your mouth desiccated like south Tehran’s destitute streets. Your heart is squeezed like the alleys of north Tehran at noon, their most depressing hour.

You feel vanquished as migraines smother your once exquisite talents, and disorientation turns your dream palaces into desolate ruins. You flap like a wounded bird, and you try to close your eyes to force sleep, just as parts of the city are forced into sleep by the energy-saving rationing of public lighting. But, alas, you are not the city, your eyes are closed but sleep is evasive.

Night has again fallen and Tehran is in the grasp of meth. Because you are not alone. While there are no reliable statistics on drug use in Iran, the state welfare organization suggested last year that at least 8.2% of all Tehranis aged 15-45 had tried meth. The government admits they lack statistics on addiction, but officials have suggested meth is the ‘second most widely used drug in the country’. In 2010 alone, the authorities seized 1.4 tons of methamphetamine, the main ingredient in crystal meth. In the Iranian year 2013-14, they seized 3.5 ton of crystal meth and closed down 375 laboratories making it. But authorities have uncovered only a small number of the labs – euphemistically called ‘kitchens’ as in the United States – making meth.

A university researcher – in work that has not been peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal – has claimed around 50% of admitted mental patients in Iran are there due to complications from the use of meth.

Where did shisheh come from, and when did it arrive? Not long ago, the city seemed content puffing on the opiates pouring across the Afghan border as we lounged, carefree, on soft paisley-patterned bolster pillows, heating up bongs of 19th-century vintage. The price was only a little jaundice, lingering constipation, sunken eyes with dark rings, lack of care for work and responsibility, and a gradual loss of libido.

Yes, we failed to hear hues and see sounds. Yes, opium was a murderous agent in our blood streams. Yes, we were addicted. But we gained a gravelly tone that made friends’ poetry recitations bearable. If we expired bit by bit, we were comfortable in our growing numbness. Opium eased away frustrations and failings. This was a traditional addiction respectful of our history, of traditions that allowed us to go with the flow as we socialised around glowing charcoal trays. Lethal, yes, but slow and relaxed – almost spiritual.

But the world was changing around us, moving faster, making it impossible to slip into a slow suicide. Residential towers sprouted up high above soot and pollution, yielding startling views of snow-capped mountains. A million and half cars were produced annually and Tehran residents sped around new highways recounting their great adventures to one another non-stop.
The technocratic administration of President Abkar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 1989-1997, which had overseen post-war expansion and economic liberalisation, passed the torch to the new reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, whose concerns were not just increasing production but making politics more open and improving international relations. Unnoticed, liberalism was creating its prerequisite: the minor-thrill-seeking, fast-moving modern citizen. Using opium in gatherings around charcoal pits was now far too time-consuming. Heroin was a sudden tsunami in the 1990s, but ­it quickly became expensive and, anyway, had acquired a stigma of being lower-class. It wasn’t long before pharmaceuticals came along to soothe and feed Tehran’s night-time fever. First, they made their way from Pakistani labs. Norgesic and Temigesic seductively winked at starving, anxious blue veins. And along with DJs and raves came Ecstasy.

The young popped pills together. Young women, dancing close to young men, allowed their sexual desires to take flight. We injected as an expression of individuality or secularisation. A new lifestyle was evolving as the middle-class young left home, or at least aspired to. The more the old social powers – parents, clerics, media commentators – rejected this lifestyle, the more attractive it became. Customary social relationships were boring in their repetitiveness. Artificial accelerators of individuality were off and running, with personal success the measure of a new modernity as the young looked for mind-altering ways to break from themselves.

Late in the evening, young men and women would gather in darkened houses. They sealed the cracks in doors and windows, took Ecstasy and topped it off with hashish and marijuana joints. They hyperventilated to the rhythms of trance and techno until they would bend at the knees, after which they would try to balance their fuzzy minds with a little of their father’s drug, opium. Then spent, they smiled at one another.

Meth suited the morning. Users would inject, snort or smoke a pinch, shave or put on make-up, and then expand under the skin of the metropolis in pursuit of fresh summits to conquer. If they could find a quiet place for a siesta, it would be to inject what was needed to kill the weariness of daily work and the aimlessness of city life.

Such was the matching of the new life and the new drugs. Up to this point – the mid 2000s, the final years of the reformist administration – meth was still rare and so its addiction had not spread. Its high price made it a luxury that couldn’t be repeated daily.
But it had a foothold. Its high lasted longer than all other drugs. And crystal meth exactly fitted the new economy, where everything could be attained through shortcuts. It allowed you to lose weight without a diet. It didn’t contain opiates, such as morphine, that smacked of old Tehran. With shisheh, you could lock-in for hours to a piece of music, a computer game, a deal, sex, studying, whatever was your primary fix. At that time, no-one expected to become addicted or knew meth addiction could lead to insanity. Meanwhile regional developments made opium quite scarce. The limitations imposed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s conservative government put a damper on raves. Quick shots of Norgesic and Temigesic were still delectable, but in a couple of years they lost favour as news came of living bodies falling apart, like cadavers, due to the high level of cortisone in these drugs. Urban legend has it that on one unremarkable night an unassuming flight landed in the middle of the desert and brought the chemical formula for crystal meth to Iran. With small recipe variations, all primary ingredients were available to anyone. It was easy enough to hire a chemist with a mere bachelor’s degree to convert the space under the stairs and produce a kilo of meth, so ‘kitchens’ sprung up in Tehran and the provinces. Quickly, networks of large and small operators were busy throughout Tehran’s well-known hangouts selling shisheh. Crystal started to rain on Tehran like a spring deluge, pelting not only the hearts of the youth, but even the minds of older men and women in need of a fix. The profitability of meth meshed with the economics and culture of the bazaar. The top of the robust pyramid of trade was eventually controlled by those with strong clan loyalties. They ruled the city at night. These fearless immigrants with years of international smuggling experience, who knew prison as a second home, had no aversion to dispatch their youngest to the battlefield of meth to snuff a competitor by any means, including murder. The price of meth dropped by 400 percent in 2009-10 as Iran became self-sufficient.
What is shisheh making of us?

The chemistry is simple. The methamphetamine in crystal meth causes a deluge of dopamine in the synaptic spaces between neurons – which leads to
enhanced awareness and perception. But by disrupting the regulatory systems that control the level of dopamine present in the brain, methamphetamine in the long term has a primary role in the onset of bipolar disease and depression.

As with the nervous system, so with the insular, ‘no-exit’ nature of new Tehran. Each individual is like a neuron trying to communicate in metropolitan synaptic spaces. Any communication requires the secretion of cash, self-confidence, untruths and lust for power. It demands a constant motivation to push towards success and happiness. But these interactions have to be attempted so frequently that they lead to fatigue and jaundice.

Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive of all substances, and medical remedies like anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs can only alleviate the symptoms. There is no cure for crystal meth other than breaking tables old and new, resisting the pull of what passes itself off as progress, and arriving at a form of self-awareness amid the mad play of forces unleashed in Tehran.

Otherwise, the light in your mind will collapse into silent isolation. You will have years to to succumb to collapse, as you regurgitate all the hallucinations life has fed you.

When it comes to drugs, Iranians traditionally turned to opium and heroin. But a younger generation needed to turn up the dial <br>

Crystal Meth

Crystal Meth

Playing and partying with Crystal Meth (or Tina), might be fun and manageable for some: for others it can be about chaotic sexual encounters or distressing highs and lows.

Crystal meth is not physically addictive so you are not in any danger from stopping, although it is very “more-ish” while you are still high (or coming down) and the days after can be incredibly difficult. It is however psychologically addictive.

The feel-good factor can be an intoxicating and engaging relief from daily troubles or unhappiness, and the temptation to continue using can be overwhelming. Tina can start to dominate your social life, and you can lose many of your non-sexual, social contacts and routines and become isolated and lonely as the sexual encounters fade into a series of faceless blurry memories.

DANGERS OF USING CRYSTAL METH

The immediate dangers come from risky sexual encounters as incredible highs distort our perspective of what risks we are prepared to take. Not being aware of condoms breaking, damaged tissue in the arse or on our penises, or hastily-made decisions to bareback are all part of the risks.

Poor injecting practices can also be very dangerous. You can ask a health worker at your sexual health clinic about harm reduction in relation to injecting, or your local drug service or check out our information on safer injecting practices.

Many people think that since they have chosen to have unprotected sex with their sexual partner it may be safe to share needles. But Hepatitis C can be caught more easily by sharing needles than by unsafe sex, and the treatment for Hep C is much less successful if you are using Tina – in fact many doctors will refer you to a drug service for help before they consider beginning your treatment.

CRYSTAL METH HARM REDUCTIONS TIPS

Crystal meth produces effects which users often want to repeat, and this can be part of its appeal as a psychological addictive substance. To reduce becoming psychologically addictive, make sure that you take breaks in between your using sessions. Using every weekend does not allow for your brain and body to recover from it’s effects.

Do not inject crystal meth as the higher you get, the less likely you will be able to inject safely. Do not mix crystal meth with any other drugs (especially other stimulants), or alcohol or you may run the risk of overdosing.

Never buy crystal meth in large quantities, since you run the risk of what you may intend to be a one night session, turning into multiple nights of no sleep, impaired functioning, and longer comedowns. Crystal meth lowers inhibitions, and sex can become risky and condom-less.

Only use crystal meth in small amounts so that you have some awareness of what is going on, and you also lower the risk of stroke or heart attack. The higher the dose of crystal meth you take, the more risk you have of hallucinating, experiencing paranoia, or having a psychotic episode.

Crystal meth can make users quite unpredictable, therefore only use crystal meth with people you know and trust. We can also ignore our hygiene and nutrition, or forget to take HIV medications. Tina can also make us more prone to violence and depression.

Crystal meth can cause the most severe comedowns, so ensure you are able to take time out, and it does not impact your work, social life etc.

Crystal meth is a class A drug, with a seven year jail term for possession, with a life jail term for supplying it to others, so do not carry on the street, or share what you have with others you come into contact with.

OTHER SERVICES TO SUPPORT YOU

Our partnership CODE clinic with 56 Dean Street and the Club Drug Clinic at Chelsea Westminster Hospital both offer sexual health screens for people who may feel less welcome at other clinics because of their drug use or sexual identity. We offer judgement-free specialist care with LGBT workers.

Watsons pharmacy, part of the Soho Medical Centre on the corner of Frith Street and Soho Square, provides free, clean needles. The pharmacy at Boots Piccadilly Circus will also provide free, clean needles, and they are open daily until midnight.

You can access a list of our services or contact us by email to discuss your needs: [email protected]

Antidote helpline: Contact us to discuss your drug or alcohol issues on 020 7833 1674 (10am-6pm, Monday to Friday). Ask for someone from the Antidote Team.

Crystal Meth Crystal Meth Playing and partying with Crystal Meth (or Tina), might be fun and manageable for some: for others it can be about chaotic sexual encounters or distressing highs