Amphetamine – also known as “speed” – is a synthetic stimulant used to suppress the appetite, control weight, and treat disorders like narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The Chinese physicians were among the first health care experts to explore the use of amphetamine compound for more than 5,000 years through their native plant called Ma huang (Ephedra sinica) – for treatment of common cold, coughs, asthma, headaches, and hay fever.
Ma huang is known to stimulate the nervous system to enhance mood, reduce fatigue, and to make a person alert. However, in the passing of years, it was also marketed produce euphoria and to increase sexual sensations. It wasn’t until 1887 when amphetamines were first synthesized by the drug company Smith, Kline and French.
In 1932, amphetamine was marketed as Benzedrine in an over-the-counter inhaler to treat nasal congestion – for asthmatics, hay fever sufferers, and people with colds. Around 1935, physicians successfully used it to treat narcolepsy, and by 1937 amphetamine was found to have a positive effect on some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD have difficulty concentrating. Around the same time, amphetamine was available by prescription in tablet form.
Meanwhile, according to Nicolas Rasmussen’s On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamines, it was in 1940s when amphetamine became hugely famous that it could have been included in the list of medical breakthroughs, alongside insulin and penicillin. During the World War II, soldiers were using amphetamines and methamphetamines to increase alertness, boost morale, and fight fatigue. Furthermore, athletes and students also started using amphetamines to increase alertness levels and physical performance. By 1950, amphetamine became increasingly in demand and doctors embraced it as psychiatric medications for distressed patients. In addition, it was also considered as a breakthrough in weight loss, and soon after media labeled amphetamine as cure-all medication.
The Amphetamines and Other Stimulants, authored by Lawrence Clayton, noted that advertisements claimed amphetamines to solve problems like alcoholism and obesity. However, in the late 1950s amphetamines were restricted and could only be acquired with the prescription of doctors. Unfortunately, people soon discovered the presence of amphetamines to some over-the-counter decongestant inhalers and started becoming addicted and abusing it. It later became a popular recreational drug after young people found that large doses can result to tremendous high.
The year 1960 became the peak of the drug’s popularity. Young people have been forging prescriptions for the stimulants. Likewise, the addiction resulted to more young people suffering from heart attack and strokes.
During the 1970s, illegal speed labs came into existence on the West Coast, and though the US federal government was able to control prescription stimulants, it failed to control illegal labs. Hundreds of young people were rushed to the hospital, either sick or dying from drugs that had been made from illegal speed labs.
By 1970s, the US government imposed heavy restriction on the supply of pharmaceutical amphetamines, as reported cases of amphetamine abuse increased.
At present, amphetamine’s popularity refused to fade despite government’s strict prohibition of the drug. Nicolas Rasmussen’s On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamines, noted that another epidemic of amphetamine abuse and addiction is driven by recent surge of crystalline methamphetamine or “ice” as well as the amphetamine derivatives “ecstasy.”
According to the US government statistics, high dose methamphetamine resurgence started in centers in California, Colorado, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Texas. Between 1983 and 1988, emergency room admission cases involving amphetamines have doubled nationally, and increased again between 1988 and 1992. Between 1992 and 2002, cases increased five-fold further.