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The different types of amphetamines—and related drugs such as methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin?)—are stimulant drugs. Stimulants speed up the central nervous system. They act like adrenaline, a hormone that is one of the body's natural stimulants. Other drugs with similar effects include cocaine, ecstasy, ephedrine, caffeine and many others.
Amphetamines were first introduced in the 1930s as a remedy for nasal congestion, and marketed over-the counter as an inhaler named Benzedrine. These drugs were also used medically to treat obesity and depression. Different types of amphetamines were available from the 1930s until the 1970s. People eventually found, however, that the medical value of amphetamines is offset by their dangerous effects and high abuse potential (the chance a drug will be abused, cause addiction or be otherwise harmful). In the 1970s, new laws restricted the medical use of these drugs. Today, only dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine?) and methylphenidate are made for medical use. All other amphetamines are made in illicit laboratories.
Pure amphetamines are white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powders. Illicitly prepared amphetamines vary in purity. They may be whitish with traces of gray or pink and may be a coarse powder, or in crystals or chunks. They may smell "fishy" or like ammonia. Methamphetamine resembles shaved glass slivers or clear rock salt. Amphetamines are injected, smoked, sniffed or taken as pills.
When amphetamines were easy to get, many people used them to stay awake and to have more energy. Truck drivers, students and athletes were especially likely to abuse amphetamines. Even recently, soldiers have been given amphetamines for endurance in battle. People with eating disorders may use these drugs to try to lose weight.
How amphetamines make you feel depends on:
When amphetamines are injected or smoked, they reach the brain quickly, and produce a "rush," or surge of euphoria, immediately. The effects of amphetamines are often different from person to person.
In children who are hyperactive, however, amphetamines and related drugs, in the correct doses, can have a calming effect. Amphetamines reduce hunger and increase breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Larger doses may cause fever, sweating, headache, nausea, blurred vision, very fast or irregular heartbeat, tremors, loss of co-ordination and collapse.
The initial rush after injecting or smoking lasts only a minute. With some types of amphetamines, the stimulant effects can last up to 12 hours. Some people may use amphetamines repeatedly over a period of several days to try to stay high.
When taken as prescribed, amphetamines and related drugs do not cause dependence. However, these drugs can cause dependence if they are misused. Methylphenidate is less likely to cause dependence than other amphetamines.
Regular non-medical use of amphetamines can lead to tolerance. This means that the person needs to take more and more of the drug to get the desired effect. Regular use of amphetamines, especially when the drug is smoked or injected, can quickly cause psychological and physical dependence. Dependence means that cravings and compulsive use of the drug become very important to a person. If drug use is stopped, the person usually goes through withdrawal, also called "the crash." Symptoms of withdrawal can include fatigue, restless sleep, irritability, intense hunger, depression, suicidal behavior and fits of violence. People who use amphetamines often also use other drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis or benzodiazepines, to help them relax and sleep. This increases the risk for dependence on these other drugs.
Chronic use of amphetamines can lead to serious physical and mental health problems. Because amphetamines reduce appetite and fatigue, they can cause vitamin and sleep deficiencies and malnutrition, and make people more prone to illness. Regular use of amphetamines can also cause amphetamine psychosis. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and bizarre and violent behavior These symptoms usually disappear a few days or weeks after the drug use has stopped. Longer-term studies support the efficacy and safety of methylphenidate when taken as prescribed to treat hyperactivity, but more information is needed to evaluate its long-term effects.
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