Amphetamine is a powerful stimulant that causes a significant increase in one’s energy level. Amphetamine is popularly known as speed. As a street drug, it’s available in pills or powder form. The powder has a strong chemical smell, which is dependent on the type of dissolvent used in the production process, as pure amphetamine has no smell at all. Alongside XTC and coke, it’s one of the most popular party drugs. Taking amphetamine can be quite dangerous. Therefore we will explain – amongst other things - more about the risks of it in this article.
The history of amphetamine
Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 but was hardly used until 1927, when researchers discovered the medicinal qualities of the drug. It opens the bronchial tubes and offers pain relief to asthma and bronchitis patients. At the time, it was put in inhalers. As a result of that, the stimulating effect of the drug was discovered. This made the drug increasingly popular over the course of the 1930’s.
The drug gained, even more, popularity when soldiers in World War 2 discovered the uplifting and energizing effects of it. The drug made them stay awake for longer, feel less anxious and notice an increase in stamina. Some people claim that Hitler was an amphetamine user. However, this is not entirely true as Hitler was known to use methamphetamine, which is not quite the same as amphetamine. You can find out more about the differences between the two in our encyclopaedia.
When amphetamines were supplied to soldiers on an increasing scale, it soon became clear that there are some serious downsides to the drug. It appeared to cause heart problems that in some cases can be life-threatening. The addictive side of the drug was discovered soon after. Once you are addicted, the drug suppresses your appetite up to the point where you can barely eat at all. It also makes it nearly impossible to sleep. An amphetamine addiction can cause extreme fatigue that can sometimes lead to death. Therefore it was changed into a prescription drug. Until the 1960’s, the drug was still prescribed quite often, mainly as a medicine for asthma, but also as a slimming agent. There might have been an indication that it was getting too much when housewives started cleaning their windows in the middle of the night because they were on weight loss pills that contained high doses of amphetamine.
During the Vietnam war, amphetamine was illegal. However, that didn’t stop it from being used in extremity by the soldiers in the army. About sixty percent of them were using amphetamine or methamphetamine. This would lead to enormous addiction rates. The American government decided to vigorously ban the drug. From that moment on, it would only be prescribed as medication for severe forms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Amphetamine binds to the ‘Trace Amine-Associated receptor’ (TAA-receptor). This increases dispensary of adrenaline and dopamine. It also prevents the re-uptake of both neurotransmitters. As a result, the levels of adrenaline and dopamine in the brain will increase. This will make you more energized, uplifted and less anxious. Amphetamine has a half-life of eight to ten hours. This means that after eight hours, only half of the drug has been excreted and the traces of it will still be present in your brain.
Left- and right-handed amphetamine
Amphetamine is still prescribed as a medicine. Medicinal grade amphetamine is always dexamphetamine. When dexamphetamine is being produced, two almost identical types of molecules come into existence. The only difference between the two is that they are basically each other’s reflection. This would be comparable to a left and right glove. They are almost identical, except for the fact that one fits on the left hand and the other one on the right. The right-handed amphetamine molecule fits well on the TAA-receptor that causes the stimulating effect. The left-handed molecule also attaches to the receptor, though not as well as the right-handed one, which diminishes the effect.
The left-handed variety also goes by the name of levoamphetamine, the right-handed one is dexamphetamine. Medical grade amphetamine is always dexamphetamine. Street amphetamine is often a mix of both.
Amphetamine as a medicine
The paradox about amphetamine is: although it is a very strong stimulant, it’s often praised as a medicine for ADHD. Strangely enough, the English Wikipedia site makes a clear distinction between recreational and therapeutic use. If it’s prescribed as a medicine, they only mention the benefits, yet when describing the recreational side of it, it’s suddenly presented as dangerous. Obviously, this is very inconsistent, as in both cases it concerns the exact same drug.
Pharmaceutic amphetamine is said to be completely harmless when it’s used over a long period of time. It’s also said to be very effective at fighting concentration problems. Scientific research has shown that long-term medical use increases the IQ of children with ADHD by 4,5 points.  These benefits are connected to the stabilisation of neurologic dysfunction (of ADHD patients) in the prefrontal lobe.
Recreational use is said to be dangerous, as higher doses are used. However, people often forget that, if dexamphetamine is used for medical purposes, it’s being used on a daily basis. An ADHD patient ends up consuming way more of the drug than someone who uses it every other month at a festival. In addition to that, the dosage for recreational use is about as high as the dosage for medical use. So you should ask yourself what’s worse: sporadic use for fun, or daily use for medicinal purposes? The problem is that hardly any research has been done about the possible health risks of long-term use. There are some indications that show that it is potentially dangerous.
When you realise that amphetamine is a very potent stimulant, it’s obvious that as a result of long-term use, brain damage could arise. Ritalin; a new medical drug that’s closely related to amphetamine, is found to cause permanent brain damage in rats.  Brain scans have shown that long-term Ritalin use permanently changes the brain chemistry of children.  Wikipedia’s blatant love for medical amphetamine, has not to be taken too seriously. The long-term effects have not been researched enough to claim that it’s harmless and only has benefits.
Occasionally, amphetamine is prescribed as a medicine for narcolepsy; a condition where one needs extreme amounts of sleep. In the past, it has also been prescribed as an anti-depressant. That did not have the desired effect as amphetamine makes you use up high amounts of dopamine in a short amount of time. Whilst on it, you feel euphoric. Afterwards, a dopamine crash takes place. Most people with depression don’t have high levels of dopamine as it is, which can make them feel even more depressed when the amphetamine wears off.
Amphetamine in many colours
Street amphetamine appears in many different colours; mostly white, grey, blue, yellow, light green or pink. Pure amphetamine, however, is white. Coloured powder indicates impurity. The purest street amphetamine is seventy-five percent pure. So at least twenty-five percent of what you consume consists of other chemicals. The by-product, and therefore the colour, varies based on the production process.
The legend of apple speed
In the nineties, ‘
Even though the apple speed has been off the market for over twenty-five years, most amphetamine enthusiasts will recognize the name. The product was so popular in the nineties that it almost became a legend. However, amphetamine itself can’t differ in quality. If the drug causes different effects, this is completely due to the solvents and by-products in the powder. After all, amphetamine remains amphetamine, regardless of the smell.
Sometimes street amphetamine is sold as a paste instead of a powder. Rumour has it that this speed is extra fresh. Some even say that dry speed loses its potency very quickly and that you can keep your wet speed in the freezer for years without it diminishing in quality. The truth is that amphetamine is produced by making extractions. The excess fluid in the powder means that there is still some solvent in the product. Often, this is methanol. You really don’t want that in your body as it can send you blind. If you buy wet speed, it’s advisable to let the fluid evaporate before you use it.
The idea that dry amphetamine loses its potency faster is a myth. Pharmaceutic pills with dry amphetamine are preservable for many years. However, very dry speed is not comfortable to snort as some of it could get into your lungs. This is why most users prefer the somewhat sticky product that sticks better to the nasal mucosa.
Washing your amphetamine
Even though amphetamine is very cheap – generally about five euro per gram – it’s often cut with other cheap powders like caffeine, mannitol and inositol. Some users decide to wash their amphetamine. This can be done by adding an excess of (anhydrous, also 99% pure or dry) acetone so that the excipients will dissolve, but not the amphetamine. When you let the suspension run through a filter, the amphetamine remains in the filter. The excipient is in the solution. You can throw this away. Unfortunately, this product also contains the contaminants that occur during the production process. The only thing that is removed by this method is the relatively innocent excipients.
You can snort, swallow or inject amphetamine. One dose contains about twenty milligrams. As explained before, dexamphetamine is stronger, so for a dose of that, you only need ten milligrams. After using it, you will have more energy and better concentration. It will also make you more talkative and alert. It will make appetite disappear and make it practically impossible to sleep. It increases the heart rate and widens your pupils. It makes your breathing go faster and your muscles go tense. The latter can result in tension in the lower jaws and involuntary chewing movement. This is what they call ‘a swinging jaw’.
Taking an overdose can make your heartbeat more irregular, which can lead to heart failure and in extreme cases a possibly lethal heart attack. It can make your blood pressure so high that it causes cerebral haemorrhage, which can also lead to death. When snorting amphetamine, it’s practically impossible to overdose. You simply can’t consume such high dangerous amounts through the nose. There is a risk of overdosing when the drug consumed orally. Injecting amphetamine is by far the most dangerous way to consume it. We would urge you not to try that.
If you consume speed regularly, you run the risk of getting physically addicted. This is when the body tries to restore the balance by breaking down dopamine receptors. A physically addicted person has fewer dopamine receptors. You need certain levels of dopamine for certain biochemical processes to happen properly, so an amphetamine addict needs to supply that with amphetamine. If not, it can make them physically ill. This is when one encounters withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, the body can restore from that within about three days. After that, the symptoms of withdrawal disappear.
Amphetamine is not quite as addictive as methamphetamine, coke or heroin. It’s not very likely that you will get a physical addiction. However, most cases of amphetamine addiction concern mental addiction. Excessive use can lead to psychoses, violent behaviour and strokes. By the lack of appetite, one can develop a serious food deficiency. Combined with lack of sleep, a speed addiction can completely wear one out. Amphetamine is unhealthy for your body. Actually, it’s even more damaging than coke or heroin. In other words: amphetamine is quite toxic. This is another reason not to take it.
After using amphetamine, the comedown can in some cases go on for a week. You really have to ask yourself if it’s worth using it. If you want to go on dancing, chatting or working, for a long time, there are many alternatives available that generally are more fun and a lot healthier.
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Figure 3: Treatment benefit by treatment type and outcome group
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