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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

How Meth Cooks Pass on Their Skills to the Next Generation


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Methamphetamine remains, two decades after use exploded in the US, a serious public health problem in many communities. Now a second generation of meth makers and meth users is coming of age, in the tradition of children going into the family business.

At the same time, new regulations have made medicines containing pseudoephedrine—the active ingredient in making meth—much harder to get, with the result that home-production is more dangerous than ever.

An anthropologist embedded himself in one such community in Missouri to understand life among the meth tribe:

Cooking meth is a kind of apprenticeship. Recipes circulate among cooks like secrets or rumors. Apprenticeships take place in the woods or in the home, sometimes inter-generationally. There are cases when three generations of a single family have cooked and used together. They engage in a DIY practice that I equate with alchemy. They’re transmuting base substances—everyday commodities you can find at Walmart—into something precious: a panacea, a cure-all. Meth cures all ills of the world by transforming the world, by tweaking the user’s neurological relation to the world. Meth cooking is alchemy in its contemporary, late-capitalist form.