Originally named "ya máa" (ยาม้า), meaning "horse drug" , as it was given to horses when pulling carts up steep hills and for other strenuous work in Shan State. The slang terms for ya ba in Burma are (kyethi, lit. "button") and (athi).
Ya ba is sometimes called bhul bhuliya in India. The name commonly used for it in the Philippines and Indonesia is shabú. In north Thailand it is often referred to as "chocalee" due to a somewhat sweet taste ya ba pills leave in the mouth.
Appearance and use
Ya ba is typically produced in a round pill form. There are many different versions of ya ba, and the most common are red, orange, or lime green in color and carry logos such as "R" or "WY". They are small and round, roughly 6 millimetres (0.24 in) in diameter (similar size to Smint but round), which means they can be packed inside a plastic soda straw for easy transportation or in a reusable "mint" container.
Ya ba tablets typically are consumed orally. Another common method is called "chasing the dragon". Users place the ya ba tablet on aluminum foil and heat it from below. As the tablet melts, vapors rise and are inhaled. The drug also may be administered by crushing the tablets into powder, which is then snorted or mixed with a solvent and injected. When swallowed in pill form the duration of the drug's effect is between 8–16 hours, as compared to 1–3 hours when smoked, while the intensity is considerably reduced. The peak of the drug's effect is followed by a come down period lasting 6–10 hours, during which the user may have difficulty sleeping or eating. Many users report that it takes them up to 24 hours after consumption to be able to fall asleep.
Ya ba is not commonly injected as many intravenous users favour the pure product instead (methamphetamine, called "ice" in Southeast Asia). This illegal drug is especially popular in Thailand, where it is imported from Burma or Laos even though it is sometimes manufactured locally in Thailand.
Typical ya ba users are working males, aged 16–40 years old, and its use is not uncommon among both female and male prostitutes in Thailand and Cambodia.
Burma (Myanmar) is the largest producer of methamphetamine in the world, with the majority of ya ba found in Thailand being produced in Burma, particularly in the Golden Triangle and northeastern Shan State, which borders Thailand, Laos, and China. In 2010, Burma trafficked 1 billion tablets to neighboring Thailand. Ethnic militias and rebel groups (in particular the United Wa State Army) are responsible for much of this production; however, the Burmese military units are believed to be heavily involved in the trafficking of the drugs.
Rise and fall in popularity in Thailand
Ya ba tablets were sold at gas stations and were commonly used by long-haul drivers to stay awake. After many horrific long-distance bus accidents, they were outlawed by the Thai government in 1970. The deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's campaign from 2003 on to eliminate drug-trafficking further helped to curtail widespread use. In particular, use of the drug by bus drivers and truckers is not as widespread as it was in the 1980s.
As a result of the Thai government crackdown, restricted supply has had an effect on prices, further curtailing the popular use of ya ba. In 1999–2000, when buying a straw-full (around 20 pills) in Chiang Rai Province, north Thailand, ya ba was sold for around THB10 per pill and commonly used on the go-go circuit and by young "MTV" clubbers. Retail prices have risen[when?] from THB100–150 (US$3–4) to THB250–450 per pill as a result of the crackdown, though it remains a popular party drug.
In 2000, ya ba was smuggled across the porous border with Burma and from the neighbouring Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai Provinces of Thailand. Illegal traffickers often marketed or promoted their product by claiming that the pills contained up to 6% heroin. Rumour suggested it was produced by the corrupt personnel of Wa State Army in Burma.
In 2014, it was reported that Thailand's northeast provinces have seen a 700% increase in the number of people arrested for meth since 2008, according to data from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau. In 2013, authorities counted more than 33,000 meth-related arrests in the northeast. The rapid growth of ya ba use in Isan mirrors that which is occurring across Asia, which now accounts for more than 50% of global amphetamine-type stimulant users. 
In 2006, ya ba consumption became fashionable for the well-to-do in Bangladesh. A series of highly publicized drug raids in 2007 by authorities implicated some well-known business people.
Although the extent of ya ba abuse in Bangladesh and India is not precisely known, seizures of the drug by authorities are frequent. It is also believed those who use it on a regular basis are frequently involved in the distribution of the drug, either directly or indirectly. It is commonly known in Bangladesh as "pill", "BABA", "gari", "guti", and "bori", among other street names.
In February 2010 it was reported that increasingly large quantities of ya ba were being smuggled into Israel by Thai migrant workers, leading to fears that its use will spread to the Israeli club scene, where ecstasy use is already common. In recent years, it has also been used by immigrant populations in the United States, and occasionally as a club drug replacing ecstasy.
Methamphetamine is highly addictive, with many long-term users taking 5–10 pills daily. Post come-down effects include irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia, and aggressiveness. Hair loss can also be an indicator of a long-term user, either as a direct result of the drug intake, or indirectly through the user becoming withdrawn and anxious and contracting behavioural habits, such as hair pulling. Other reported symptoms also include lower back pain, possibly from damage to the liver or kidneys. Heavy, prolonged users will experience temporary memory loss.
People with low intake of water may develop urinary tract infections (UTI), which will damage the urinary tract. If left untreated, it spreads to the kidneys, damaging them. Those who are on ya ba, drink alcohol moderately, and have a low intake of water, are in danger of contracting UTI.
- "Yaba Fast Facts". US National Drug Intelligence Center. National Drug Intelligence Center. Jun 2003. Retrieved 2014-11-13.
- Thornton, Phil (12 February 2012). "Myanmar's rising drug trade". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
- Presser, Lizzie (2014-12-01). "Drug Addiction Grows on Thai Rubber Farms". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2014-12-02.
- Sanaul, Islam Tipu (2013-06-03). "Bail rejected, 'Yaba king' Amyn Huda in jail". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 2014-11-13.
- "Smuggling of Yaba tablets increasing day-by-day in Bangladesh". Bnionline.net. 2011-12-04. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
- Kunnen (24 February 2009). "Newsletter_Feb232009_final.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-05-31.
- Lappin, Yaakov (2010-02-02). "'Nazi speed' smuggled in huge amounts". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2014-11-13.
- New Drug Seeping into California Communities. The Associated Press, 22 Sep 2002[dead link]
- Dhaka Police in "Huge" Drugs Haul. BBC News, 26 Oct 2007