What is Amphetamine?
Side Effects, Withdrawal, Drug Names
Roughly 1.6 million or 0.6 percent of the US population have confessed to using an amphetamine in 2016, according to a 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Other alarming facts from the same report pointed out that in 2016, the average age of new users of methamphetamine was 23.3 years.1
In just one month, 774,000 people or 0.3 percent of the population reported methamphetamine use in 2016. Elsewhere, the Monitoring the Future survey for 2018 reports that about 964,000 people of age 12 years and above had reported methamphetamine use-induced health disorders in 2017. This is approximately 30 percent more than the figures reported for 2016.
Even more troubling, the survey adds that nearly 0.5 percent of adolescents in 8th, 10th and 12th grades had tried out methamphetamine in 2017. This is in stark contrast to the decline in adolescent users of methamphetamine after 1999 when the drug was first put on the survey.2
What are Amphetamines?
Amphetamines are synthetic psychostimulants or compounds that accelerate the brain’s functional processes. On the positive side, amphetamines can treat certain medical conditions. Conversely, due to their mood-enhancing abilities, amphetamines are also likely to be used for recreational purposes and possible substance abuse.
There was a time, not in the too distant past, when Americans could freely purchase amphetamines of their choice. However, rampant use of amphetamines for recreational purposes exposed an unusually large proportion of the American population at risk of dependence or addiction. This is when the US government put the brakes on the easy availability of amphetamines.
Getting Amphetamines Illegally
But amphetamines are still available for those who want them – illegally. Illicit drug operations churn out drug combinations comprising amphetamines to supply a never-ending market of curious and eager users, so much so that amphetamine addiction has become a problem that can’t be pushed under the carpet. The ill-effects of long-term amphetamine usage have been too well documented to be taken lightly.
A Brief History of Amphetamines
Amphetamines are wonder drugs that don’t cure anything but are prized for their ability to send you on a ‘feel good’ trip. Discovered as early as 1887 by a Romanian chemist, the drug languished in obscurity because nobody knew what medical conditions it could treat or cure.
However, things have not been the same since 1932 when American chemist Gordon Alles patented the compound. Initially, Alles experimented with a compound that he dubbed as beta-phenyl-isopropyl amine in his quest for an asthma cure. But even as he failed to create a cure for asthma, Alles made some startling discoveries while experimenting with the drug on himself: the compound worked as a mood-enhancer. Losing no time, he immediately patented his discovery and entered into a business pact with pharmaceutical major Smith, Kline and French. From there on began the wild journey of amphetamines as we know them today.
Together, Alles and SKF positioned the amphetamine as a “wonder drug” that increases productivity, keeps sleep and hunger at bay, and raises spirits to new highs. Within no time, amphetamines were the toast of the town, with a wide cross-section of society hailing their mood-altering effects.
College students and truck drivers to salespersons and housewives; all were rooting for the pep pills. With the advent of World War II, amphetamines made their way to the standard survival kits provided to American soldiers. Later, it went on to become the favorite of the infamous “Flower Children” generation. But soon, sad stories began to trickle in, and the world sat up to note with alarm the negative aspects of amphetamines: dependence, addiction, and finally death in unhappy circumstances.
Types of Amphetamines
Depending upon the applications, amphetamines have legal and illegal applications or uses.
Legally, the medical community prescribes amphetamines for treating medical conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and clinical depression. The class of amphetamines used for such legitimate purposes is available from chemists on a doctor’s prescription. These drugs are produced in laboratories and production facilities of legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Common amphetamine products prescribed for treating ADD, ADHD, and narcolepsy include:
Adderall (aphetamine salts)
Amphetamines are also available as over-the-counter drugs, generally as decongestants, energy boosters, or appetite suppressants, such as:
Rising Costs of Prescription Stimulants
Another twist in the tale of prescription stimulants are the findings of a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Conducted on data compiled from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the study done by researchers of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out that of the 6.6% of American adults using prescription stimulants, nearly 0.2% reported health disorders.3
Between 2008 and 2015, the number of amphetamine-related hospitalizations tripled in the United States.4 Annual hospital costs incurred on treating rising rates of amphetamine use were $2.17 billion in 2015.
When amphetamines are consumed for recreational purpose or are misused, it is classified as illegal. In such cases, users procure the drugs illegally from shady chemists or drug dealers. Such illegal amphetamines are usually produced in unauthorized laboratories and illegal manufacturing units. Since they are smuggled in or manufactured illicitly, contraband and illegal amphetamines are usually a combination of many things genuine and counterfeit, such as drugs, binding agents, sugar, and caffeine.
Identifying Illegal Amphetamines
Illicit amphetamines are generally available in crystal form or as fine or coarse powder. It is also possible that bootleg amphetamines are available as yellow or slightly off-white chunks. Packaged in aluminum foil or plastic, illegally produced amphetamines are also sold in capsule and pill forms. There is no assurance of quality or purity of such amphetamines.
How are Amphetamines Abused?
Amphetamines are available in different forms and are administered in different ways depending upon the application (medical or recreational).
When used for legally approved purposes like medical treatment, amphetamines produced in pharmaceutical production units are available in the form of oral pills. These pills are used in the treatment of medical conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy. When ingested in pill form, amphetamines take between 15 and 20 minutes to register their effect on the user who begins to feel the effect.
Powder and Liquid
However, for substance abuse purposes of recreational nature, amphetamines are available in powder or liquid form. Here, amphetamines are usually ingested either by snorting in powder form, inhaling by smoking with tobacco, or through injection by syringe.
Amphetamines can give users a high within three to five minutes of snorting them. The effects remain for around 25 minutes. When smoked/inhaled or injected into the body, amphetamines can immediately impact the senses. However, the effects also disappear equally fast.
Amphetamines used for medical purposes comprise of two compounds: dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. Of these two compounds, dextroamphetamine is the stronger one. Pharmaceutical companies combine the two compounds in varying proportions to derive various formulations with specific applications in medicine.
Common Street Names for Amphetamines
Amphetamines for mood enhancement and recreational purposes are particularly popular among younger people, usually college students and young professionals. Considering that amphetamines are prescription drugs, this group prefers to obtain their supplies from illegal sources.
On the streets, amphetamines are known by different names. From ‘eye-openers’ and ‘speed’ to ‘hearts’ and ‘uppers,’ there’s a veritable dictionary of alternate terminology for amphetamines. Especially for parents of teenagers and college students, knowing the lingo is an important step towards prevention.
Here is a list of the most common amphetamines as known in illegal circles:
Super Jellies or Jelly Beans
Benz or Benzies
Bennie or Bennies
Lightning or Fast Lightning
Common Misconceptions About Amphetamines
Myth #1: The human body processes amphetamines and cocaine similarly
People mistakenly believe that amphetamines and cocaine have the same effect on the human body. Actually, the human body processes the two drug classes very differently. Cocaine, which is a stimulant, is quickly metabolized in the body. On the other hand, amphetamines linger in the body’s central nervous system for a relatively longer duration.
Myth #2: Amphetamines are legal because they are safe
Another popular misconception is that since amphetamines are available as prescription drugs, they must be safe and non-habit forming. But in combination with other drugs, often to induce a greater high, amphetamine usage can sometimes result in an overdose, leading to serious complications. Similarly, the US Drug Enforcement Agency has put amphetamines on the list of Schedule II drugs that are classified as capable of causing dependence and harmful side-effects when misused or abused.
Myth #3: All amphetamines are manufactured in pharmaceutical facilities
Another false notion is that since amphetamines are sold by prescription, they must be manufactured in genuine and legally established pharmaceutical production units. The fact is that illegal laboratories are producing amphetamines that are far different in composition from the original chemical composition of the drug. Ingredients like sugar, caffeine, binding agents, and in many cases, illegal drugs and psychoactive substances, can significantly increase the danger quotient when such formulations are consumed. Purchasing amphetamines from street peddlers can prove to be a serious risk to health and life as well.
Effects of Amphetamines
Amphetamines trigger the brain’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, replicating the processes which are usually activated when most people confront a dangerous or stressful situation. Following the release of adrenalin and several other stress hormones into the bloodstream, the heart rate quickens and blood pressure levels begin to rise. Blood flow increases to the muscles in the arms and legs. The overall effect is a feeling of being empowered by a sudden energy boost. The user immediately displays unusual talkativeness, restlessness, and excitement. The mouth begins to dry up and the pupils dilate.
Long-term usage of amphetamines ushers in many health problems, ranging from addiction, erectile dysfunction, cardiac problems, neurological, and physiological issues. Ironically, while amphetamine usage increases sexual desires, it also inhibits sexual functions in the long run.
Use of certain amphetamine drugs has been known to induce valvular heart disease. Amphetamines substantially increase the chances of heart disease and malfunction such as abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. Heart attacks and cardiac arrests are quite common in amphetamine users.
Prolonged usage of amphetamines is also responsible for the development of paranoid psychosis, which include unfounded fears, persecution complexes, and even a sense of omnipotence. In some cases, long-term users even attempt suicide after prolonged bouts of depression.
Amphetamines can easily lead to abuse and dependence because the human body has a relatively high tolerance capacity for such substances. As prolonged use of amphetamines inhibits the brain’s ability to produce dopamine on its own, users are forced to ingest themselves with larger and larger dosages just to feel normal.
Severe tooth decay, decreased salivation, and poor oral hygiene are some of the other fallouts of long-term amphetamine usage.
Detox from Amphetamines
Amphetamine withdrawal is a relatively safe procedure and does not have life-threatening implications, but it can nevertheless be a highly uncomfortable experience, and there is an ever-present danger of a relapse. Therefore, doctors strongly advise withdrawal under medical supervision.
Withdrawal duration and intensity of symptoms depend upon several factors such as gender, age, physical and genetic makeup, how long a person has been on amphetamines, last dosage and frequency, and simultaneous or concurrent use of other drugs or substances.
The symptoms of amphetamine withdrawal are mostly related to moods and feelings such as depression, irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration, and increase in appetite. Withdrawal broadly comprises of two stages: initial and long-term. During the initial stage (which lasts around two days after withdrawal), the person goes through a ‘crash’ phase when the symptoms are pronounced. Later on, the intensity of the symptoms reduces and thereon, withdrawal becomes more gradual in nature.
Signs of symptoms associated with amphetamine withdrawal include:
Twitches and uncontrolled body movements
Body aches and pains
Heightened need for sleep
Delayed responses and movements
The withdrawal timeline for amphetamine deaddiction starts from day 1 and continues up to a year after the person’s last dose. Withdrawal symptoms usually manifest in the following patterns:
The symptoms evolve in the first 36 hours after amphetamines were last consumed. This phase is characterized by symptoms like an increased desire for sleep, increase in appetite, cravings, and depression.
The withdrawal symptoms in this phase include irritability, mood fluctuations, body aches and pains, depression, sleeplessness, fatigue, and cravings.
Depending upon the duration and dosages of amphetamines used by the person, withdrawal symptoms can last up to a year.
Common Stumbling Blocks to Treating Amphetamine Abuse
Not every treatment works for every person. A multiple treatment approach works best for most people struggling with a substance use disorder. Attacking the problem on many different fronts can help an individual lead a sober and successful life.
Achieving amphetamine sobriety can be a challenge when the person is battling addiction caused by abusing a combination of amphetamines and other substances. As per studies conducted by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the majority of people with amphetamine abuse issues are usually struggling with dependence on other substances such as alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs. In such cases, the person has to undergo withdrawal processes associated with the remaining poly-substances along with amphetamine withdrawal.
Lingering Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal is a long-drawn process that can last months and sometimes for years. While going through amphetamine withdrawal, it’s common to experience sudden onsets of anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, and lingering cravings. Such low feelings make it difficult for the person to retain their sobriety. Specialized help and professional support are crucial to tackling lingering withdrawal symptoms.
Finding Help with Amphetamine Dependence
There are many options available for people wanting to escape the clutches of amphetamine addiction. For people using amphetamines under medical supervision, the first thing to do would be to consult the prescribing physician. A medical consultation would help the physician diagnose the severity of the addiction so that the appropriate course of action can be planned. The physician will either treat or guide the person to the appropriate treatment center for treatment.
Also available are 24-hour helplines of various national and non-government organizations. These helplines are manned by professionals who guide callers on the way forward to escaping from amphetamine substance abuse. Sometimes, family and friends can also be a great source of help and information for people struggling with amphetamine addiction problems.
Today, almost every community has some resources in place for helping those suffering from problems like substance abuse, alcoholism, and addiction. Support groups are sprouting all over the country to help people suffering from amphetamine abuse. A quick search on the internet can help bring such people together so that they can help each other.