Due to the heroin epidemic that has ravaged the United States, many people focus on depressant drugs since they’re currently the most problematic. That means it’s the heroin, prescription painkillers, and benzodiazepines with which people are the most concerned. However, there are other classes of drugs that prose an equal or nearly as large threat as depressants. For instance, hallucinogens are another class of drugs with moderate popularity; in fact, hallucinogens were far more popular in the 1960s and 1970s than they are today. But a substance that become extremely popular over the course of the twentieth century and which has remained in widespread use ever since. Specifically, one of the staples of the stimulant class is amphetamine, which is our current topic of discussion: What is amphetamine? What are its effects? Why is it dangerous?
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WHAT EXACTLY IS AMPHETAMINE?
Amphetamine was created in 1887 by a Romanian chemist named Laza Edeleanu, but upon its discovery, amphetamine was assumed to have little to no therapeutic value, resulting in it being largely ignored for several decades. By the early 1930s, chemist Gordon Alles had synthesized amphetamine completely independent from Edeleanu; stated in Los Angeles in the United States, Alles had previously been working on ephedrine in the home of creating a better, more effective version when he happened upon what he thought was a new miracle drug for asthma, allergies, and the common cold. In reality, Alles had created the first psychoactive prescription drug, which would go on to ignite a controversy that ended up spanning many decades.
At the time, most researchers would conduct experiments by using themselves as test subjects. This was the case with Alles who injected himself with a ‘nonlethal’ dose — which ended up being five times greater than what would be recommended today — and observed the effects. First, Alles noticed that his sinuses become very clear and his nose dry. After that, he felt a surge of energy and a major increase in blood pressure, and despite the heart palpitations he observed in himself, he felt quite euphoric. Over the course of the evening, he documented that he felt energetic, chatty, and more witty than usual. By about eight hours later, his blood pressure returned to its normal level but still had a sleepless night; in his notes, he recalled that his mind raced from one subject to the other throughout the night.
The effects of amphetamine that Alles had observed are now considered the characteristic effects of a group of drugs called amphetamines. Many have found this quite confusing; when a person speaks of amphetamine, are they talking about the actual drug called amphetamine or are they referring to one of a group of drugs known as amphetamines? Today, the broader use of the term to refer to the group of amphetamine-like drugs is much more common since there are a number of common derivatives of amphetamine in widespread use. However, it’s important to remember that amphetamine use and abuse haven’t gone extinct quite yet.
Once Alles had an idea of amphetamine’s effects, he began testing on human patients. In particular, he tested amphetamine on individuals who suffered from asthma and found that the drug wasn’t a viable treatment for asthma: If the dose was too small, the patient became euphoric but experienced no improvement in symptoms and if the dose was increased, the amphetamine helped with the symptoms, but the patient began to experience the adverse effects that come from taking amphetamine at an excessively large dose. For a period of time, the drug was marketed as a ‘wonder drug’ for anyone needing a boost in energy, resulting in brief popularity among truck drivers and college students. Of course, it was this widespread introduction to society that quickly resulted in the widespread use, abuse, and eventual demonization of amphetamine.
EFFECTS OF AMPHETAMINE
As covered above, amphetamine is a potent stimulant drug that also serves as the base for a class of drugs known as amphetamines. Like other stimulants, amphetamine increases a person’s energy level, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and many other bodily functions and processes. Although the drug — or a form of it — is sometimes still found in certain medications today, such as for narcolepsy or ADHD and few others, amphetamine isn’t seen very often today, especially among recreational drug users who have alternatives available like crystal meth, cocaine, and pharmaceuticals like Ritalin and Adderall.
Some of the short-term effects of amphetamines include increased reflexed and decreased reaction times, euphoria, quick excitability, increased attentiveness and alertness, increased concentration, and general feelings of wakefulness. However, the drug also has a number of unpleasant side effects, such as headaches, dry mouth, nausea, anxiety, aggression and hostility, lack of appetite, grinding one’s teeth, confusion, heart palpitations, dizziness, increased blood pressure and body temperature, sexual dysfunction, and many others.
AMPHETAMINE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS
When a person continues to use amphetamine over a period of time, he or she risks becoming depending on the substance. If this occurs, the addict with experience discomfort during periods without the drug, which is called withdrawal. In many cases, the symptoms of withdrawal are the opposite of the effects that one experiences while actively under the influence of the drug. For instance, amphetamine withdrawal symptoms include lethargy, an overall lack of energy and motivation, depression, anxiety, agitation, physical discomfort, inability to focus or concentrate, suicidal ideations, hostility toward others, paranoia, overwhelming cravings for the drug, and intense nightmares.
OVERCOMING ADDICTION TO AMPHETAMINE
The experience of being addicted to amphetamine is quite unpleasant. It causes individuals to think, feel, and behave in ways that they never would if they weren’t addicted. Fortunately, there are options available for those who have become addicted to amphetamine. Oftentimes, it’s recommended that a person begin with an initial period of detox, which will help him or her severe physical dependence on amphetamine.
Once the physical component of addiction has been addressed, the individual can progress to the actual treatment phase of recovery. In this phase, an individual will participate in psychotherapy, group therapy, life skills training, relapse prevention education, and other elements that are vital to the longevity of one’s sobriety. There are many other resources available, too. This ensures that anyone who suffers from amphetamine addiction can find the right treatments for his or her unique needs.