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Article Summary

Stimulants Information

Stimulants, sometimes referred to as "uppers," reverse the effects of fatigue on both mental and physical tasks. Two commonly used stimulants are nicotine, which is found in tobacco products, and caffeine, an active ingredient in coffee, tea, some soft drinks, and many non-prescription medicines. Used in moderation, these substances tend to relieve malaise and increase alertness. Although the use of these products has been an accepted part of U.S. culture, the recognition of their adverse effects has resulted in a proliferation of caffeine-free products and efforts to discourage cigarette smoking.

A number of stimulants, however, are under the regulatory control of the CSA. Some of these controlled substances are available by prescription for legitimate medical use in the treatment of obesity, narcolepsy, and attention deficit disorders. As drugs of abuse, stimulants are frequently taken to produce a sense of exhilaration, enhance self esteem, improve mental and physical performance, increase activity, reduce appetite, produce prolonged wakefulness, and to "get high." They are among the most potent agents of reward and reinforcement that underlie the problem of dependence.

Stimulants are diverted from legitimate channels and clandestinely manufactured exclusively for the illicit market. They are taken orally, sniffed, smoked, and injected. Smoking, snorting, or injecting stimulants produce a sudden sensation known as a "rush" or a "flash." Abuse is often associated with a pattern of binge use--sporadically consuming large doses of stimulants over a short period of time. Heavy users may inject themselves every few hours, continuing until they have depleted their drug supply or reached a point of delirium, psychosis, and physical exhaustion. During this period of heavy use, all other interests become secondary to recreating the initial euphoric rush. Tolerance can develop rapidly, and both physical and psychological dependence occur. Abrupt cessation, even after a brief two- or three-day binge, is commonly followed by depression, anxiety, drug craving, and extreme fatigue known as a "crash."

Therapeutic levels of stimulants can produce exhilaration, extended wakefulness, and loss of appetite. These effects are greatly intensified when large doses of stimulants are taken. Physical side effects, including dizziness, tremor, headache, flushed skin, chest pain with palpitations, excessive sweating, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, may occur as a result of taking too large a dose at one time or taking large doses over an extended period of time. Psychological effects include agitation, hostility, panic, aggression, and suicidal or homicidal tendencies. Paranoia, sometimes accompanied by both auditory and visual hallucinations, may also occur. Overdose is often associated with high fever, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse. Because accidental death is partially due to the effects of stimulants on the body's cardiovascular and temperature-regulating systems, physical exertion increases the hazards of stimulant use.


Methcathinone, known on the streets as "Cat," is a structural analogue of methamphetamine and cathinone. Clandestinely manufactured, methcathinone is almost exclusively sold in the stable and highly water soluble hydrochloride salt form. It is most commonly snorted, although it can be taken orally by mixing it with a beverage or diluted in water and injected intravenously. Methcathinone has an abuse potential equivalent to methamphetamine and produces amphetamine-like effects. It was placed in Schedule I of the CSA in 1993.


Methylphenidate, a Schedule II substance, has a high potential for abuse and produces many of the same effects as cocaine and the amphetamines. The abuse of this substance has been documented among narcotic addicts who dissolve the tablets in water and inject the mixture. Complications arising from this practice are common due to the insoluble fillers used in the tablets. When injected, these materials block small blood vessels, causing serious damage to the lungs and retina of the eye. Binge use, psychotic episodes, cardiovascular complications, and severe psychological addiction have all been associated with methylphenidate abuse.

Methylphenidate is used legitimately in the treatment of excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy, as is the newly marketed Schedule IV stimulant, modafinil (Provigil?). However, the primary legitimate medical use of methylphenidate (Ritalin?, Methylin?, Concerta?) is to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. The increased use of this substance for the treatment of ADHD has paralleled an increase in its abuse among adolescents and young adults who crush these tablets and snort the powder to get high. Abusers have little difficulty obtaining methylphenidate from classmates or friends who have been prescribed it.

Anorectic Drugs

A number of drugs have been developed and marketed to replace amphetamines as appetite suppressants. These anorectic drugs include benzphetamine (Didrex?), diethylproprion (Tenuate?, Tepanil?), mazindol (Sanorex?, Mazanor?), phendimetrazine (Bontril?, Prelu-27?), and phentermine (Lonamin?, Fastin?, Adipex?). These substances are in Schedule III or IV of the CSA and produce some amphetamine-like effects. Of these diet pills, phentermine is the most widely prescribed and most frequently encountered on the illicit market. Two Schedule IV anorectics often used in combination with phentermine, fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine, were removed from the U.S. market because they were associated with heart valve problems.


For centuries, khat, the fresh young leaves of the Catha edulis shrub, has been consumed where the plant is cultivated, primarily East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There, chewing khat predates the use of coffee and is used in a similar social context. Chewed in moderation, khat alleviates fatigue and reduces appetite. Compulsive use may result in manic behavior with grandiose delusions or in a paranoid type of illness, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations. Khat has been smuggled into the United States and other countries from the source countries for use by emigrants. It contains a number of chemicals, among which are two controlled substances, cathinone (Schedule I) and cathine (Schedule IV). As the leaves mature or dry, cathinone is converted to cathine, which significantly reduces its stimulatory properties.

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