Amphetamines and Related Drugs

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Amphetamines are synthetic stimulants that were invented in Germany in the 1930s. Their chemical structures resemble those of adrenaline and noradrenaline, the body's own stimulants. Their effects resemble those of cocaine but are much longer lasting. A single oral dose of amphetamine usually stimulates the body for at least four hours.

Amphetamines are more toxic than cocaine and, when abused, cause worse problems. The body has a great capacity to metabolize and eliminate cocaine: the liver can detoxify a lethal dose of cocaine every thirty minutes. It cannot handle amphetamines as efficiently. At the same time, people can establish stable relationships with amphetamines more easily than they can with cocainc, probably because the intensely pleasureful but very short effect of cocaine is more seductive and invites repetitive dosing.

For many years after their invention, amphetamines were tolerated and their use was even encouraged by authorities. Soldiers in World War II received rations of amphetamines to make them march longer and fight better. The governments of several countries, among them the Soviet Union, experimented with giving amphetamines to factory workers, hoping to make them more productive (which, in the long run, they failed to do). Doctors in this country have prescribed them in great quantity for even more questionable reasons.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry manufactured enormous quantities of amphetamines, many of which turned up on the black market. The companies urged doctors to

I decided to try and make up for lost time by staying up all night to study for my European history exam, but by midnight the text was blurring before my eyes ... An upperclassman took pity on me and offered me a green-and-white capsule along with the promise that my drowsiness would be cured by taking it. I took it without a second thought, and within half an hour or so found myself studying like mad. Not only was I completely engrossed in European history, I felt exhilarated; I was actually enjoying myself... I got an A on my history exam — as I was sure I had — and have been involved, to some extent, with amphetamines ever since.

— forty-two-year-okl woman, writer

relieves chronic fatigue and mild depression

sparks energy relieves chronic fatigue and mild depression

During the days of unrestricted prescription of amphetamine and amphetaminelike stimulants, pharmaceutical companies did not hesitate to suggest that these drugs made people happy and productive.

prescribe their products for depressed housewives and people with weight problems.

There are a number of different amphetamines, but all have the same basic effect. Plain amphetamine (Benzedrine) was the first to become popular. Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methamphetamine (Methedrine) are effective in lower doses but otherwise are similar to the parent compound. A few other drugs — methylphenidate (Ritalin), for example — resemble amphetamines in effect even though they have a different chemical structure.

Today we know that regular use of amphetamines, especially by people who are neurotic, depressed, or fat, is not a good idea. Not only do the drugs fail to help their problems, they often complicate matters by creating another kind of dependence. Most of the cases of amphetamine abuse in the past thirty years have involved legally manufactured and prescribed drugs. Beginning in the 1970s, criticism of the promotional practices of pharmaceutical companies and of the prescribing practices of physicians brought about severe restrictions on the medical use of these compounds. Today amphetamines can be prescribed for only a few conditions.

One of the more controversial uses still permitted is the control of hyperactivity in young children. For unknowTn reasons, amphetamines (and other stimulants) have calming effects on young children. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of hyperactivity often falls on children who simply misbehave or don't pay atten-

tion in school. Giving them amphetamines not only fails to get to the root of the problem, it introduces young people to powerful drugs and encourages among grownups the false notion that all of life's problems can be solved by taking pills.

As legal supplies and uses of amphetamines dwindled, black markets in them grew, and as so often happens, this change promoted abuse. In the days of legal pills, most users took them by mouth. Today many people snort powdered amphetamines in the same way as cocaine, and some even inject them intravenously.

Intravenous use of amphetamines first appeared in the late 1960s. Young "speed freaks" who fell into this pattern of use experienced very bad effects on their bodies and minds. After only a few weeks, they became emaciated and generally unhealthy; they stayed up for days on end, then "crashed" into stupors. They became jumpy, paranoid, and even psychotic. The drug subculture itself, realizing the dangers of shooting amphetamines, warned people about it with the phrase "speed kills."

A new smokable form of methamphetaminc has appeared recently. Called "icc" or "glass," it is similar to crack cocaine but stimulates the brain for a much longer time. Smoking ice is as hazardous as injecting any amphetamine.

A number of people find amphetamines useful for specific purposes. For example, some college students use them to study for or take exams. Some writers take them to work. Truckers and other drivers sometimes take them for long-distance travel on highways, especially at night. Athletes, such as football players, sometimes use them to play big games. Actors and dancers take them occasionally to perform. Used in this way — that is, taken by mouth on occasion for specific purposes or projects — amphetamines do not usually cause problems, especially if people rest afterward. Problems arise when people take amphetamines all the time, just because they like the feeling of stimulation.

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