Amphetamine is a powerful stimulator of the central nervous system. It is used to treat some medical conditions, but it is also highly addictive, with a history of abuse.
Stimulants such as amphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Used under prescription, stimulants can be safe and effective.
Amphetamine sulphate, or speed, is also used for recreational and non-medical purposes. It can lead to euphoria, and it suppresses the appetite, which can lead to weight loss. Used outside the medical context, stimulants can have severe adverse effects.
In this article, we will look at amphetamine’s medical uses, its side effects, and how it is misused.
Fast facts about amphetamines
Amphetamines are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants.
They are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
Adverse effects include restlessness, acne, and blurred vision.
Rarer side effects include seizures, heart problems, and psychosis.
Amphetamines are used for recreational purposes. They are addictive.
Amphetamines come in different forms. They are used to treat ADHD and as a recreational drug.
Amphetamine activates receptors in the brain and increases the activity of a number of neurotransmitters, especially norepinephrine and dopamine.
Dopamine is associated with pleasure, movement, and attention.
Amphetamine has been trialed for a wide variety of conditions. Now, it is mainly used to treat ADHD, and, rarely, depression. In the past, it has been used to treat narcolepsy and to help with weight loss, but this is less common now.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, irritability, mood instability, attention difficulties, lack of organization, and impulsive behaviors.
It often appears in children, but it can continue into adulthood.
Amphetamines reverse some of these symptoms and have been shown to improve brain development and nerve growth in children with ADHD.
Long-term treatment with amphetamine-based medication in children appears to prevent unwanted changes in brain function and structure.
Scientists carrying out a review of 20 studies concluded that stimulants are probably helpful for people with ADHD.
They found that the brain structures of people who took stimulants for ADHD were more likely to resemble the brain structures of people without the condition than to resemble those with ADHD who did not use the drugs.
A review published in Cochrane in 2011 suggested that adults with ADHD might benefit from short-term use of amphetamines, but that they were unlikely to persist with the treatment because of adverse effects. Those who use mixed amphetamine salts, however, were more likely to continue with the treatment.
A person with narcolepsy will experience excessive daytime sleepiness and irresistible sleep episodes, called “sleep attacks.”
In a person with this condition, strong emotions can trigger a sudden loss of muscle tone, or cataplexy, which causes a person to collapse and possibly fall down. It also involves frequent and unexpected bouts of sleep.
Amphetamines and amphetamine derivatives have been used in the past to treat narcolepsy.
Due to concerns over their side effects, however, amphetamines are increasingly being replaced by modafinil, a medication that promotes wakefulness.
Under the name Benzedrine, amphetamines were first used to treat obesity in the 1930s, due to their appetite-suppressing capabilities.
Fears of the drug’s side effects and its potential for addiction and abuse caused them to fall out of favor for this purpose. In the 1950s, reports of malnutrition, psychosis, and depression on withdrawal caused doctors to stop prescribing amphetamines for weight loss.
Currently, medical professionals do not recommend using amphetamines and their derivatives to help reduce obesity.
However, in 2015, after carrying out a small study, researchers suggested that dexamphetamine might be a safe and effective way of boosting people’s motivation for lifestyle changes that can lead to weight loss.
They proposed a 6-month use of the drug to help people who have not responded to other treatment to improve their diet and increase exercise levels. This, they say, could help curb obesity and related complications, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
From the 1930s, amphetamine was used to treat affective disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia.
However, in the 1950s and 1960s, amid growing concern about its adverse effects, it was replaced by newly available antidepressants.
In rare cases, amphetamines are used alongside standard antidepressants to treat some types of depression that do not respond to other treatments, especially in people who also experience fatigue and apathy.
In a study that followed 65 patients taking amphetamines alongside normal medication, 38 “showed significant improvement, in particular with respect to energy, mood, and psychomotor activity.”