Brain-Performance, Stay-Awake and Anorectic (Lose-Desire-to-Eat) Drugs
Updated December 2, 2015
These powerful stimulants do more than increase alertness, concentration and mental productivity, amphetamines decrease fatigue and produce a short-term mood elevation, even in those who are not depressed. Like steroids for the brain, amphetamines can make people perform better at whatever they do, until the effects wear off. The next day without the drug, amphetamine users often complain that they feel tired, “stupid,” or depressed.
What are Amphetamines?
All the following are collectively called “amphetamines”:
First marketed as Benzedrine in an asthma inhaler, amphetamines became very popular as “uppers” and diet pills by the mid-1900s. Military commanders, truck drivers and students turned to amphetamines for similar reasons: They can keep you fighting long after your body would otherwise surrender to sleep.
As use of amphetamines spread, so did their abuse. In 1965, federal drug laws were initiated to curb the black market in amphetamines and now all amphetamines are considered potential drugs for abuse under the Controlled Substances Act. Production levels in the United States are regulated by the DEA, which sets quotas (or limits) on the amount that may be manufactured each year, in an effort to control illegal uses.
How Amphetamines Work
When we are stressed or under threat, the central nervous system prepares us for physical action by creating particular physiological changes. Amphetamines prompt the brain to initiate this 'fight or flight' response. These changes include:
The release of adrenalin and other stress hormones
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Redirected blood flow into the muscles and away from the gut
In small doses amphetamines can banish tiredness and make the user feel alert and refreshed. However, this drug-induced burst of energy and focus comes at a price: a “speed crash” always follows the high and may leave the person feeling nauseous, irritable, depressed and extremely exhausted.
Attention deficit disorder
Common Side Effects
Loss of appetite
Less Common Side Effects
High blood pressure
Rapid pulse rate
Tolerance (continued need to raise the dose)
Feelings of suspicion and paranoia
Required “Black Box” Warning Label
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the following “black box” warning on all amphetamine drugs which means that medical studies indicate amphetamines carries a significant risk of serious, or even life-threatening, adverse effects.
If It Doesn't Work
The drug should be stopped gradually. Withdrawal symptoms are psychological and stopping suddenly can cause extreme fatigue and severe, even suicidal, depression in adult patients.
If It Does Work
“In the treatment of ADHD for children and young adults, Adderall XR is now prescribed frequently, often as a first-line drug. This is, in my opinion, a very serious mistake,” states Jack M. Gorman, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and deputy director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “Adderall is now abused throughout college campuses, where it is bought, sold, stolen, borrowed, snorted and injected. It is a very powerful drug that undoubtedly works for ADHD, but there are alternatives with less abuse potential that should be tried first.”
What are the Risks?
Dependence, Tolerance and Withdrawal
It is possible to build up a tolerance to amphetamines, which means the person using the drug needs to take larger doses to achieve the same effect. Over time, the body might come to depend on amphetamines just to function normally. The person craves the drug and their psychological dependence makes them panic if access is denied, even temporarily.
Withdrawal symptoms can include tiredness, panic attacks, crankiness, extreme hunger, depression and nightmares. Some people experience a pattern of “binge crash” characterized by using continuously for several days without sleep, followed by a period of heavy sleeping.
Induction of schizophrenic-like states in children on prescribed doses of stimulant medications, including Adderall, have been observed, though not as well documented as with amphetamine abusers, according to The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine in an article entitled, “Adderall-Induced Psychosis in an Adolescent.”
Amphetamine-Induced Anxiety Disorder
The onset of amphetamine-induced anxiety disorder can occur during amphetamine use or withdrawal, according to best-selling psychiatry text, Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry citing American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“Amphetamine, as with cocaine, can induce symptoms similar to those seen in obsessive disorder, panic disorder, and phobic disorders,” states Synopsis of Psychiatry.
Amphetamine-Induced Sexual Dysfunction
Referring again to American Psychiatric Association's Manual of Mental Disorders, Synopsis of Psychiatry states: “High doses and long-term use of amphetamines are associated with erectile disorder and other sexual dysfunctions.”
Abuse of amphetamines has many serious potential side effects, including psychotic behavior, depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, violent behavior, confusion, insomnia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances and delusions.
Violent and erratic behavior is frequently seen among chronic abusers of amphetamines, especially methamphetamine.
According to the DEA the effects of amphetamines are similar to cocaine but the onset is slower and the duration is longer. Chronic abuse produces a psychosis that resembles schizophrenia and is characterized by paranoia, picking at the skin, preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, and auditory and visual hallucinations. These psychotic symptoms can persist for months and even years after use of these drugs has ceased, and may be related to their neurotoxic effects.
Drug Enforcement Administration, US Department of Justice. “Amphetamines,” Drugs of Abuse Publication. National Drug Intelligence Center, 2005 ed.
Drug Enforcement Administration, US Department of Justice. “Drug Fact Sheet: Amphetamines,” undated, retrieved January 5, 2013: justice .gov/dea/ druginfo/ drug_data_sheets/ Amphetamines.pdf.
National Institute of Mental Health. Medications. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services; NIH Publication No. 02-3929, 2007 ed.: nimh.nih .gov/health/ publications/ medications/ medications.pdf.
All amphetamines have essentially the same chemical properties and actions
according the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Amphetamine, dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine are so alike, according to a DEA report, even experienced users may not feel a difference between them.
ABOVE: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), US Department of Justice (DOJ). “Amphetamines,” Drugs of Abuse Publication. National Drug Intelligence Center, 2005 ed. usdoj.gov/dea/ pubs/abuse.
IN THE NEWS
Amphetamines May Cause 60% Increase in Risk of Parkinson's Disease
Users of amphetamines, like Adderall, may be nearly 60 percent more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than those who don't take the drugs, suggests a 31-year study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 63rd Annual Meeting.
The study involved 66,348 volunteers in California. The average age at the start of the study was 36. By 1995, according to the researchers, 1,154 of the amphetamine-users had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
The study's author stated: “If further studies confirm these findings, the potential risk of developing Parkinson's disease from these types of amphetamines would need to be considered by doctors before prescribing these drugs as well as be incorporated into amphetamine abuse programs, including illicit use.”
Amphetamines are now often prescribed to increase wakefulness and focus for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, and traumatic brain injuries. But when this study was conducted, between 1964 and 1973, amphetamines (Dexedrine and Benzedrine) were commonly used for weight-loss. Adderall is a blend of four amphetamines that includes Dexedrine and Benzedrine.
ABOVE: PR Newswire, “Using Amphetamines May Increase Risk of Parkinson's Disease,” St. Paul, Minn., 2/22/2011. (The study was supported by Kaiser Permanente Northern California.)
High-Fructose Corn Syrup May Hurt Cognition and Memory
Los Angeles, CA—A recent study from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) brings new evidence about how high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may effect the brain. Researchers measured HFCS influence on insulin signaling, synaptic plasticity in the brain, and behavior. They concluded that HFCS consumption impaired cognitive ability and provided evidence of how HFCS may have more of an effect than previously known on cognition and memory.
ABOVE: Barnes JN, Joyner MJ. “Sugar highs and lows: the impact of diet on cognitive function.” J Physiol 590.12, 2831 (2012). Agrawal R, Gomez-Pinilla F. “Metabolic syndrome in the brain: Deficiency in omega-3-fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signaling and cognition.” J Physiol 590, 2485-2499 (2012).