Methamphetamine use is not new in Thailand. The drug was sold at gas stations and used by truckers to stay awake as far back as the 1960s. The government outlawed its use in 1970, but the drug has continued to be smuggled into the country primarily from Burma. Sold in pill form called “Yaba”, it is typically used by working males aged 16-40 years old.
Yaba pills have recently turned up that are strawberry, and chocolate flavored, apparently intended to mask the unpleasant taste of the meth sold to children. The pills are also brightly colored and resemble ecstasy pills that some teenagers may already be familiar with. Taking these two facts by themselves, it might seem a little paranoid to assume that drug manufacturers are directly marketing their product to kids. However, according to Time magazine’s website, dealers are directly trying to entice school kids outside of their schools when their classes for the day are over. All of these things, in combination, point to a worsening drug problem, and the fact that dealers are looking for new untapped markets where they can unload their drugs.
What is Yaba
Yaba is the Thai name for a pill containing methamphetamine and caffeine. The name Yaba is Thai for “crazy drug”, and the tablets are called various names in different parts of the region outside of Thailand. The biggest producer of these meth tablets is Burma (Myanmar) where ethnic militias and rebel groups produce the majority of the drug for export. The tablets sell for an average of $6, and the drug is popular to a wide variety of users from sex workers and laborers who want to work longer hours, to affluent teenagers and the impoverished.
Yaba accounts for 75 percent of all addicts who go to rehabilitation centers looking for treatment in Thailand. The pills are most commonly taken orally, but can be used in a variety of ways. They are smoked by heating them on tin foil while the user inhales the vapors (chasing the dragon), or they can be crushed into powder and either snorted, or dissolved in liquid to be injected.
Dangers of Meth Use and the Developing Brain
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance. It is a stimulant that affects the dopamine system in the brain, and users experience a period of depressed mood when the drug wears off. This prompts the user to do more meth in an attempt to feel better. This continued use is called a binge, and may last for a period of days, during which time the user will go without sleep and eat very little. At the end of the binge the user crashes due to the weakened state of their body and may sleep for days. When the crash is over the body is in very bad shape and psychological cravings for the drug cause many to use the drug again.
Long-term use of meth causes many complications. It has a profound effect on physical appearance, including severe tooth decay (meth mouth), extreme weight loss, and hair loss to name a few. It causes damage to internal organs, including the lungs, liver, and heart. On top of all the physical damage, meth also takes a toll on the psychological state of a heavy user. Meth depletes the body of dopamine which can lead to psychotic behavior.
Methamphetamine is particularly dangerous for adolescents because their brains are still developing. The Science And Management of Addictions foundation (SAMA) writes that adolescents who use drugs damage their developing neurotransmitter function, have changes in their developing perceptions, and are at a higher risk of becoming addicted. Teenagers in their inexperience cannot be expected to take into consideration all of the consequences related to decisions they make about drugs, education and prevention are essential in this critical time while their brains are developing.