A History of Amphetamines

A history of amphetamines has been around for a long time. Amphetamines are a class of stimulants which are used medically and recreationally for a variety of purposes. Methamphetamine, Adderall, and Benzedrine are all amphetamines.

These drugs work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine apparently transmits a signal to the rest of the body that something pleasurable is occurring. Amphetamines also block the way the brain recycles dopamine, thereby keeping the neurotransmitter in use longer. This extended brain activity can lead to nerve damage and, subsequently, to brain damage.

Origins of Amphetamines

Amphetamines were first created in 1887 by a German chemist. They did not begin to be considered medicine until the 1920’s when it was found they changed how the lungs worked. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, amphetamines were used in over-the-counter formulas to treat problems like asthma, hay fever, and the common cold.

Around this time, a psychiatrist named Abraham Myerson theorized that amphetamines adjusted the hormonal balance in the central nervous system and stimulated adrenaline. Dr. Myerson believed that depression stemmed from a suppression of adrenalin, so he felt that amphetamine would be the perfect antidepressant. This is not how amphetamines work, but the drug company producing amphetamines ran with this idea and promoted the drug as an antidepressant.

Advertising and marketing campaigns further expanded the use of amphetamines, encouraging doctors to recommend the over-the-counter medication as remedies for Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, motion sickness, night blindness, obesity, narcolepsy, and impotence. They were also used to extend general wakefulness and became popular for use among truck drivers, students, and athletes attempting to boost energy levels.

By World War II, civilian sales of amphetamines had quadrupled and 1945 saw over 500,000 American civilians using or abusing the drugs. At this point, it was not considered a dangerous drug, nor was it stringently controlled.

The 1960’s

An FDA survey states that in 1962, U.S. annual amphetamine salt production had reached about 80,000 kg. That’s about 43 standard 10 mg doses per American per year. Through the rest of the 1960’s, the FDA estimates that amphetamine production grew to beyond 8 billion doses (10 mg each) manufactured yearly. This widespread use made the public health hazards of amphetamines even more obvious. The problem the medical profession found most troubling was amphetamine-induced psychosis.

The addictive potential of amphetamines became clear as well. When the drug was introduced, pharmacists noted it was habit forming – like caffeine or nicotine. By the 1960’s, it was clear that many people were hooked on amphetamines. The 1960’s also saw the beginning of major illegal drug trade in amphetamines.

The 1970’s & Beyond

1970 saw some regulation of illegal amphetamine production and changed amphetamines from an over-the-counter medication to a prescription medication. After this legislation, the government began to control how much amphetamine was produced by U.S. drug corporations.

Although there was a slump in amphetamine use after federal control began, use has increased in recent years. According to the DEA, from 1995 to 2007, production of amphetamines has increased by more than five times and in 2005 more amphetamines were produced in America than any other time in history – even when amphetamines were over-the-counter drugs.

Amphetamines in the Military

Amphetamines came into use during World War II as “pep pills” and were routinely used in aviation. They were also included as a standard medical supply and in emergency kits on both sides of the conflict. Although there were rules limiting amphetamine use during the war, a 1945 army survey of fighter pilots found that 15% of those regularly using amphetamines took them whenever they felt like it – rather than as directed.

Another survey of military prisons found many personnel addicted to amphetamines. 27% of military prisoners were introduced to amphetamines by an officer during service. This survey found that young men in military service were seven times more likely to become addicted to amphetamines than if they were living a civilian life.

In spite of the alarming addiction rates among military personnel during World War II, amphetamines have been used throughout many modern conflicts – including the Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While these pills are more strictly regulated, some military commanders have been accused of pressuring their subordinates into taking the drugs with them on long missions – even when a subordinate has opted out of amphetamine use. Additionally, sleeping pills are now provided when the pilot has returned to base, giving them one other potentially addictive drug to add to the list.

Street Names

Street names for amphetamines include:

Bennies, Cartwheels, Blue or Black Mollies, Speed, Jelly Beans, Hearts, Uppers, Wake-ups, Get-ups, Boot-ups, Sparkles, Footballs, Eye Poppers, Lid Poppers, Oranges, Fast Lightning.

Street names for methamphetamine (meth or crystal meth) include:

Brown, Chalk, Crank, Chicken Feed, Cinnamon, Crink, Crypto, Fast, Getgo, Methlies Quik, Mexican Crack, Redneck Cocaine, Tick Tick, Tweak, Wash, Batu, Blade, Cristy, Crystal, Crystal Glass, Glass, Hot Ice, Ice, Quartz.

The Effects of Amphetamines

Amphetamines can cause a number of effects in those using them medically or recreationally. These include:

  • Euphoria
  • Temporary increase in energy 
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Severe skin problems 
  • Increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Impotence
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Violent behavior 
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Severe tooth decay (“meth mouth”) from methamphetamine use
  • Premature aging (particularly from meth use) 
  • Addiction
  • Seizure
  • Death

Severe reactions can occur at high doses or when the drug is used over a protracted period of time. Some of the most notorious adverse reactions, such as psychosis, violence, hallucinations, unbearable cravings, and physical decay, are from the use of methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth.

Amphetamines & Children

Certain ADHD medications are amphetamines. Others are methylphenidate, which is an amphetamine-like stimulant. As of 2011 in the U.S., 6.1% of children 4-17 years old were on ADHD medication.

Amphetamines which are prescribed for ADHD include:

  • Adderall/Adderall XR
  • Dexedrine
  • Destrostat
  • Vyvanse
  • Desoxyn (NOTE: Desoxyn is methamphetamine)

Methylphenidate prescribed for ADHD can be found under the brand names:

  • Focalin/Focalin XR
  • Methylin/Methylin ER
  • Ritalin/Ritalin SR/Ritalin LA
  • Metadate ER 
  • Methylin 
  • Concerta 
  • Quillivant XR
  • Daytrana

Both drug categories are addictive and can cause serious side effects (noted above), a fact recognized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That is why such drugs fall under Schedule II of the United States Controlled Substances Act. Wonder why Ritalin is called “Kiddie Coke”? It creates young drug addicts who crave the drug and they could possibly end up crushing it, snorting it, smoking and even injecting it.

It is vital to consider alternatives any time you or a loved one is prescribed amphetamines or an amphetamine-like drug. There are options, so be sure to talk to a competent doctor, a holistic practitioner or nutritionist to discover what non-drug and non-addictive medical treatment might work best.


http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-amphetamine-and-methylphenidate/

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