Drug Abuse: Amphetamines

If you’ve seen Limitless, then you’ve definitely wanted to get your hands on that drug. I mean, the idea of unlimited endurance, endless energy, and astonishing capabilities seems quite mesmerizing. My previous post addressed cocaine, which provides this illusion for a short time, this time I will be speaking about another powerful source of this feeling of invincibility: amphetamines.

The history of amphetamines goes back thousands of years, dating back to ancient Chinese herb called ma huang that was used for asthma and bronchitis. This herb was first discovered by Emperor Shen Nung, the same person that discovered marijuana and tea. In 1887 German chemists isolated the active ingredient in ma huang and called it ephedrine. It became obvious that ephedrine mimicked the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Soon a synthetic form of ephedrine was created, called amphetamine. German troops were given amphetamines to keep them awake and alert, and Japanese kamikaze pilots were on amphetamines during suicide missions. After the war, amphetamines became a popular drug among students in college to stay awake during finals week and exams. Once it became such a common drug, people started to abuse it. They would inject or drink the content of amphetamine inhalers, the abuse peaked in the 67 and went quiet around the 70’s, once cocaine took over.

Amphetamines cause increased amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine to be released from synaptic knows and slow down their uptake from receptor sites. Dopamine acts in the brain as positive reinforcement. The euphoric effects of amphetamines and their craving are considered to result from changes in dopamine activity.

Unlike cocaine, amphetamine effects last for a longer period of time, making it a very demanded drug. Chances are you have either heard about or seen Breaking Bad, a TV show about methamphetamine, the heaviest, and widely popular form of amphetamine. Users of methamphetamine experience feelings of euphoria and invincibility, decreased appetite, and a huge boost in energy and alertness. But chronic effects of methamphetamine abuse are worsened over time. Heavy methamphetamine abusers may experience hallucinations of parasites under their skin, scratching it to bone, burning, or stabbing themselves. It’s also very likely that they will engage in repetitive and compulsive behaviors, such as counting rice. The worst consequence of methamphetamine abuse is the paranoia, bizarre delusions, hallucinations, violent outbursts, and acute mood swings. These types of symptoms can be observes with any kind of amphetamines, they are collectively referred to as amphetamine psychosis.

Methamphetamine users often don’t sleep for days at a time, leading them to extremely irritable, paranoid, and potentially violent actions. This type of behavior, referred to as “tweaking” among the drug-abuse community, is present in over 50% of methamphetamine abusers and makes it very hard for law-enforcement officers to deal with them. There are some speculations that these symptoms are somehow similar to paranoid schizophrenia, an overstimulation of dopamine-releasing neurons in the regions of the brain that control emotional reactivity. A study also shows changes in chemical metabolites in those regions of the brain that are associated with Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that methamphetamine abusers may be predisposed to acquiring Parkinson’s disease later in life, but luckily it can be at least partially reversed by abstaining from the drug a year or more.

Even though there are a lot of amphetamine abusers, there’s still some medical applications of these drugs. Amphetamines are often prescribed to people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder – ADHD, or just ADD if there’s no hyperactivity present. Commonly prescribed stimulant medications for this disorder are oral administrations of dextroamphetamine, Dexedrine, a combination of dextroamphetamine and devoamphetamine, Adderall, and an amphetamine-like drug methylphenidate, Ritalin.

Ritalin is the most commonly prescribed drug due to its short duration and the need to be administered twice a day, allowing normal sleep. Adderall has a longer duration of action and can only be taken once a day. Studies have shown that Ritalin and Adderall have the same effect. There is a serious Adderall abuse problem among young adults. “In college, especially, these drugs are used as study-aid medication to help students stay up all night and cram,” study co-author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Young adults might not be aware of the serious side effects Adderall might cause, such as high blood pressure and stroke. It also increases the risk of depression, bipolar disorder, aggressive behavior, and antisocial actions.

Another medical use of amphetamines is to help narcoleptic (an unpredictable and uncontrollable urge to fall asleep during the day) patients. Provigil was made specifically for this purpose, and has an advantage over other stimulants. Provigil doesn’t present problems of abuse and produces fewer side effects.

It’s very unfortunate that people keep abusing drugs to the point of ruining their lives. It’s unfortunate that college students have the need to use amphetamines to boost their grades and to stay awake during finals week. It’s unfortunate that drugs like crystal meth are so prohibited yet available to the public.

Please do not use amphetamines unless prescribed. Please never use methamphetamines under any circumstances. If you have a problem, or think someone you know might, get in touch with professionals. It’s okay to get help, it’s okay as long as you acknowledge there’s a problem. You have a chance to fix your life, take it. We are all here for you.


Graphs and Citations:

Rettner, Rachael. “Adderall Misuse Is a Growing Problem, Experts Warn.” LiveScience, Purch, 16 Feb. 2016, http://www.livescience.com/53727-adderall-abuse-young-adults.html.

Levinthal, Charles F. Drugs, Society, and Criminal Justice. Pearson, 2016.

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