Amphetamine Intoxication and Interventions


Nowadays, the use of various psychoactive drugs and stimulants is illicit in the majority of countries. It is well known today that such synthetic and semisynthetic psychoactive substances as cocaine and heroin have multiple side effects and lead to addiction. Nevertheless, less than a century ago, they were commercialized as remedies for even the most insignificant ailments. It was possible to purchase many of those drugs over the counter and intake them almost uncontrollably. This story also applies to amphetamines, whose ubiquitous use was initially promoted by physicians and pharmacists but was consequently banned by governments across different nations. The present paper will discuss the first commercial applications of amphetamine, the reasons it became widespread, and the measures undertaken by the government in order to curb abuse of this substance.

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What is Amphetamine?

Amphetamines are artificial chemicals resembling some natural substances that can be found in foods. For example, phenylethylamine is contained in cheeses, yet, unlike amphetamine, it becomes quickly disintegrated upon entering the body (Iversen 5). Conversely, amphetamine is created in a way that its degradation is slowed down and, thus, its effects on the body and the brain are much more pronounced (Iversen 5). The drug targets the nervous system, causing a release of various neurotransmitters, and the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the reflex control and the regulation of various body functions, including blood circulation, gut movements, and so forth (Iversen 11-12). Therefore, amphetamine intake invariably leads to behavioral and metabolic changes.

Commercial Use of Amphetamine

The effects of amphetamine are usually manifested as increased alertness, wakefulness, and reduced appetite (Courtwright 78). Nevertheless, in the 1930s drug was marketed as a decongestant and was comprised as the main ingredient in the over-the-counter Benzedrine inhaler, offering “quick relief from cold symptoms” (Courtwright 78). As mentioned by Courtwright, only when some consumers commenced reporting nervous stimulation, insomnia, and loss of appetite after the use of Benzedrine, pharmacists started to explore other potential uses of amphetamine (78). Thus, within merely a decade, the list of medical indications for amphetamine had drastically expanded.

Growing Substance Popularity

By the 1950s, amphetamine use became extremely widespread in the United States and across some other countries. According to Rasmussen, the main reasons for that were the routine commercial drug development and promotion by both manufacturers and physicians, as well as the intensified competition in the pharmaceutical market (974). As stated by Courtwright, in 1949, the volume of amphetamine production in the United States equated to 16,000 pounds while, in 1958, it reached 75,000 pounds (equivalent to 3.5 billion tablets) (79). Although medications containing amphetamine were promoted as a treatment for a great variety of conditions, starting from obesity and ending with chronic hiccups, the substance was particularly popular as an antidepressant (Courtwright 78; Rasmussen 975). Rasmussen states that psychiatric tablets, including Benzedrine and Dexedrine, brought substantial revenues to their producer, Smith, Kline, and French, which risen from the US $0.5 million in 1941 to the US $2 million in 1945 (975). Noteworthily, these numbers are a result of sales merely to the civilian population, which indicates that amphetamine became highly demanded among people from all walks of life.

It is also important to note that amphetamine tablets and inhalers were easily accessible and needed no prescription. Besides that, people quickly started to intake the drug not just for medical purposes but as a means to stimulate mental activity and productivity, dispel drowsiness, and attain a state of euphoria. For instance, as early as the 1950’s college students started to intake amphetamine during all-night parties and exam blitzes (Courtwright 78). According to Arria and DuPont, regardless of the fact that the substance is illicit nowadays, many contemporary students continue to use amphetamines in order to boost their academic performance (415). However, it is observed that the positive effects of the drug on productivity are short-term, whereas the regular intake usually leads to deterioration of one’s functioning, psychological decline, and even psychosis (Arria and DuPont 415; Rasmussen 975). As the number of abuse instances continued to increase over time, researchers, authorities, and the public became more aware of the risks inherent with amphetamine use.

Governmental Policies

When speaking of the situation in the United States, the policies aimed to reduce the rate of amphetamine use were first introduced as a response to the increasing rate of substance production (Courtwright 81). In addition, governmental efforts to reduce substance consumption were supported by studies that found the links between the growth rates of drug abuse and crime (Rasmussen 980). A specific measure undertaken by the federal government was the introduction of drug production quotas during the late 1960s-70s. Due to this, amphetamine and methamphetamine production in the country dropped by about 80% within a period of just a few years (Rasmussen 981). Besides that, as healthcare practitioners became more and more aware of the drug dependence problem in the United States, they started to prescribe amphetamine-containing drugs less (Rasmussen 979-981). As a result, by the end of 1970, the rate of amphetamine abuse significantly decreased.

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The results of the conducted literature review revealed that public attitude to amphetamines has changed over time. Since the moment of its invention in 1930, amphetamine’s popularity had rapidly grown since the discovered effects of the drug allegedly allowed individuals to treat multiple health conditions and cope with various daily problems. The inherent attractiveness of the drug also provided pharmacists with a chance to gain immense profits. Nevertheless, as the knowledge about the health and social risks associated with the drug improved, the government imposed stricter controls on substance production and prescription, which helped to reduce amphetamine consumption rates.

Works Cited

Arria, Amelia M., and Robert L. DuPont. “Nonmedical Prescription Stimulant Use Among College Students: Why We Need to Do Something and What We Need to Do.” Journal of Addictive Diseases, vol. 29, no. 4, 2010, pp. 417-426.

Courtwright, David T. Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. Harvard University Press, 2001.

Iversen, Leslie. Speed, Ecstasy, Ritalin: The Science of Amphetamines. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Rasmussen, Nicolas. “America’s First Amphetamine Epidemic 1929-1971: A Quantitative and Qualitative Retrospective with Implications for the Present.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 98, no. 6, 2008, pp. 974-985.

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