A Guide to Amphetamines

Amphetamines are a class of drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. They are typically used in the treatment of disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Because of how it reacts with the central nervous system, it can produce feelings of confidence, increase a person’s focus on a task, or make someone feel like they have more energy. They have a wide variety of appearances. Typically, when they are prescribed for legitimate use, they are distributed in pills.

However, thanks to the addictiveness of the substance, there is a large black-market trade in amphetamines. When bought on the black market, amphetamines may be in either crystal or liquid form. It’s not uncommon to encounter illegal amphetamines packed in small balloons or aluminum foil when sold on the street.

A close-up of crystal meth shards in small bag

When marketed as a powder, it’s hard to tell the quality of the product. The powder may range in color from white to brown and may sometimes have veins of pink or grey in it. Black-market amphetamines are doubly dangerous since there’s no telling what has been mixed in with the drug. Drug manufacturers usually add other things to their products, including caffeine and sugar. These additives aim to make the substance more attractive to users, so they return for more.

Occasionally, new psychoactive substances might be added to prolong to improve the user’s experience. The US government addressed the widespread use of amphetamines in 1971 when they passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This act classed amphetamine and its derivatives as a Schedule II drug, meaning that they were helpful as a medication, but could easily be abused.

Today, the US is dealing with widespread use and abuse of amphetamines. While it isn’t the first time this has happened, this last iteration has seen many “designer drugs” explode onto the scene.

Amphetamines can be useful, but because of how easy it is to build tolerance and become addicted to it, a person should be especially aware when using the substance in a medical setting. Before we can grasp the way amphetamines can impact our lives, we should look at where this particular class of substances comes from.

The Origins of Amphetamines

Amphetamines have had a varied history, starting as a drug that was supposed to replace ephedrine and ending as a scourge of society. However, when it was discovered in 1929 by G. A. Alles, no one knew what to make of the drug. At the time, many pharmaceutical companies were looking for a way to capitalize on the innovation of synthetic drugs. Alles developed amphetamine and tested it on both hamsters and himself. When no ill-effects seemed evident, he started to send out samples to other doctors in the American media Association for testing.

Eventually, he signed on with Smith Kline French (SKF), a pharmaceutical brand in the US, to start producing the pill. The issue was that no one knew what it was suitable for. For years, Alles was unsure what he would use the chemical for and proposed to SKF that they market it as a cure for mild depression. It became the first over-the-counter antidepressant pill in the US.

Early research showed that amphetamines didn’t provide the same relief for stuffy noses as other chemicals. However, Alles and SKF got a break when a study was published in 1937 that highlighted how useful amphetamines were in helping kids focus on schoolwork. A scientist used the chemical to deal with the newly diagnosed ADHD and saw marked success. While this was going on, SKF was shipping its own brand of inhalers known as Benzedrine.

The company estimates that between 1931 and 1938, it shipped over ten million units. The invention of amphetamines came at a time when demand for a stimulant to keep soldiers awake was in high demand. The Second World War entered the scene in 1938, and even here, amphetamines had a role to play.

SKF pivoted into supplying wartime “stimulants” in the form of Benzedrine Sulfate tablets. While there was no clinical evidence to support SKF’s claim that it increased the cognitive ability of soldiers, the “feel-good” sense it gave soldiers made them overestimate their own skills.

Origins of methamphetamine include Pervitin, a WW2 era variety

The stimulant nature of the drug allowed soldiers to stay awake long past the point of exhaustion. However, while the Americans were using Benzedrine Sulfate, the Germans were conducting their own tests with Pervitin, a methamphetamine. Pervitin was issued to airplane pilots to help keep them awake and alert during high-risk missions.

After the war, amphetamine went on to treat depression in its many forms. Other American brands ignored SKF’s patent and started producing cheaper knock-off options for those who couldn’t afford the real deal. They were used in diet pills and their more common use as an over-the-counter antidepressant. During the postwar era, the usefulness of amphetamines seemed to have no end, and major manufacturers of amphetamine grew in number and scale.

Unfortunately, the other shoe was about to drop, with rumors of addiction and overdoses coming in from different parts of the world. Public opinion began to shift against the drug as long-term addictions slowly came to light.

In 1965, the FDA responded by increasing the record-keeping procedures for pharmaceutical companies. The goal was to reduce over prescription, but it was virtually unenforceable because of how it was implemented. In 1971, the Controlled Substances Act made it illegal for anyone who wasn’t a doctor or a pharmacist to distribute the drug.

Unfortunately, by this time, the damage had already been done. Individuals who were addicted to the substance who could no longer get it on the open market turned to the illicit trading done in back alleys. Today this practice continues. While amphetamines are still being used to treat some ailments, it is so readily available that some people who have never been prescribed the drug get hooked on it through illegal dealers.

How do Amphetamines Work?

Amphetamines perform their functions in several ways. When used as a cure for ADHD, it focuses on helping the brain produce dopamine. Individuals who have ADHD are hypothesized to have too little dopamine in their prefrontal cortex. The result is that these individuals can’t keep their brains calm, and they keep hopping from topic to topic.

Taking amphetamines gives them that shot of dopamine they need. Once the brain gets that infusion of dopamine, the prefrontal cortex can regain control and steady the person’s thought processes. However, even though amphetamines are found in ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall, it’s not the only place one can find it.

In some cold medicines such a Sudafed, pseudoephedrine is used to treat flu symptoms. Amphetamine acts as a stimulant, in this case, increasing the flow of blood in areas such as the nose to ease congestion and relax breathing. While these drugs are available without a prescription, their dangers are well-known to pharmacists.

They usually keep amphetamine-containing medications behind the counter and have a strict limit on how much they’d sell to a single patron. In the past, illicit makers of amphetamines have used Sudafed as a basis for their drug, refining it to concentrate the amphetamine, which they would then sell on the streets.

There is some evidence that amphetamines may treat obesity, but more research needs to be done to verify this statement. Researchers are unsure of the mechanism by which the test subjects lost weight, but they did feel an increased sense of motivation. There are many questions to be answered before the drug can be considered helpful in treating weight loss over the long term. Even if it is, the concern about addiction is always a looming threat.

Amphetamine Side Effects

The brain requires a particular chemical balance, and amphetamines can throw that balance off without even meaning to. Several significant side-effects happen to individuals who take amphetamines to treat their ailments, including:

  • Insomnia or Increased Wakefulness
  • An Enhanced Mood
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Reduced Appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Hyperthermia
  • Cardiovascular Collapse
  • Paranoia, Hallucinations, Confusion or Memory Loss
  • Convulsions or tremors, similar to Parkinson’s Disease

Enhanced mood comes from an increase in dopamine in the brain. However, in addition to dopamine, the drug also produces large amounts of norepinephrine which deals with the body’s sympathetic nervous system. This system is what controls a person’s fight-or-flight mechanism, usually associated with massive amounts of adrenaline.

Norepinephrine can contribute to side effects by producing increased heartbeat and respiration. Unfortunately, dopamine and norepinephrine don’t work well in combination and may lead to hallucinations and psychosis, similar to a schizophrenic episode.

Types of Amphetamines

Amphetamines are taken in different ways. Among the most common amphetamines that one may encounter on the black market include:

Types of amphetamine, the prescription amphetamine Dexadrine
  • Standard Amphetamine
  • Dextroamphetamine: Originally designed as an ADHD drug, this medication is even stronger than standard amphetamines.
  • Methamphetamines: Another more potent derivative of amphetamines, this type is usually found in either crystal or liquid form.

These drugs can be taken in several ways, including:

  • Being Smoked
  • Injected
  • Inhaled
  • Swallowed
  • Being dabbed on gums

Regardless of how it’s taken, the result is the same. Depending on the concentration of the drug and if it has been mixed with anything, there may be the risk of an overdose. In some cases, these drugs are taken socially, and there are others nearby to keep an eye on any symptoms of overdose.

In most cases, is a person takes amphetamine as prescribed by a doctor, the chance of addiction is low. Illicit use usually leads to addiction. In some cases, individuals take amphetamines alongside other drugs. In these cases, overdoses may result, leading to a severe reaction from the body, and in some cases, death.

How Are Amphetamines Taken?

When prescribed and taken orally in the correct dosage, amphetamines can be useful in treating ailments. Unfortunately, even these legitimate prescriptions can be abused. To create a more intense high, individuals may crush the pills and snort them or dissolve them in water and use a syringe to get the chemical into the bloodstream faster. The injection creates the most intense high since it gets the chemical into the brain faster than other methods.

Students have been recorded as abusing amphetamines as a study aid. While the drug claims to help focus, it doesn’t help retention and may actually work against students. As noticed before in its use by World War 2 soldiers, the drug doesn’t actually improve their performance. However, the feeling of well-being makes them overestimate their abilities.

The result is that the students start using the medicine illegally, without a prescription. There’s no telling what’s in street drugs. Taking them could lead to long-term addiction, especially if they’re being combined with other illicit substances.

Amphetamine abuse also carries with it a lot of other signs and symptoms. In the case of methamphetamine abuse, dental problems, skin sores, and massive weight loss are obvious signs of someone misusing the drug.

Amphetamine Overdoses

If a person takes a strong batch of amphetamines, uses a large volume, or mixes the drug with another one, overdoses may result. Drug overdoses are medical emergencies. In general, it’s not suggested that anyone mix the medication with other medications unless prescribed by a doctor.

However, to enhance or increase the effects of amphetamines, some users mix them with other substances. These can be common substances such as alcohol or might involve cocktails of prescriptions drugs alongside the amphetamine. In the worst cases, amphetamines are mixed with heroin or cannabis. In the event of an overdose, some symptoms become apparent:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Chills or fever
  • No urine output
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Chest pain or a racing heartbeat
  • Extreme agitation, including hostility and violence to others in their vicinity

Overdoses can cause death and should be handled by trained medical professionals. Calling an ambulance is the best option in these cases.

What are amphetamines?Amphetamines and mental health, a doctor frees patients trapped in crystal shards

Amphetamine Addiction Risk Factors

Addiction to a substance is linked to dependency. When someone starts using a drug over a long period, their body builds up a tolerance to the substance. In the case of amphetamines, this comes from decreased dopamine sensitivity. As a result, they need more of it to get the same feelings of euphoria.

Unfortunately, the human brain tends to rewire itself around the substance and becomes dependent on it. When a person is dependent on a drug like amphetamine, they need it to function regularly. If, for example, a student uses amphetamines to help them focus during studying, they may find it difficult to study without it.

One of the less discussed effects of amphetamine addiction is dopamine overdose. When the body produces such massive volumes of dopamine, the brain responds by getting rid of receptors to ensure that it doesn’t end up with sensory overload. This lack of receptors results in people feeling listless and dull without their amphetamine intake.

Over the long term, it can have a significant and detrimental effect on a person’s moods, even leading to severe depression. Dopamine is one of the body’s “feel-good” chemicals, and with fewer receptors, the brain has fewer positive feelings. Eventually, this may lead to suicidal ideation.

After taking the drug, the person usually must “come down” from it. This process usually takes a few days and may experience various negative side effects such as:

  • changes in internal body temperature
  • confusion, paranoia, and hallucinations
  • depression and mood swings
  • twitching, aches, and muscle spasms
  • extreme exhaustion, but difficulty sleeping

Over time, the combination of the feeling of euphoria and the tolerance developed by the reduction in dopamine receptors leads to dependence. The brain can no longer function as it typically would without the extra dopamine that comes from taking the amphetamines.

When dependence starts impacting a person’s behavior, they are considered addicted. Dependence by itself has its own adverse effects on a person’s body. If a dependent person were to stop taking the drug, they would face severe withdrawal symptoms. When someone is leaving their amphetamine addiction behind, the first step is to go through detoxification. In detox, the person deals with withdrawal. If they go through the process at a detox facility, they benefit from a trained medical staff present. Some of the typical symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Nightmares or problems sleeping
  • Aches and pains
  • Extreme hunger
  • Crankiness or confusion
  • Paranoia, anxiety, and depression
  • Tiredness

Once a person is done with withdrawal, the symptoms may dissipate over a few days. However, detoxification isn’t the final step in recovering from amphetamine addiction.

What are amphetamine addicts in recovery doing? Staying sober through meetings and support

Amphetamine Addiction Recovery and Treatment

Long-term treatment usually involved counseling and therapy. In many cases, recovering individuals can leave their addiction behind and rediscover the joy in life. At Divine Detox, we offer specialized detoxification for recovery from amphetamine addiction. Each visitor has a unique, individual plan for helping them overcome the problem of their amphetamine dependence.

Detoxification happens in a fully controlled and secure environment, under observation by medical staff. If you’re ready to take the next step in your recovery, Divine Detox would be glad to help you. Give us a call today at 1-818-938-2177 to find out more about our services and how they can help you.

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