Originally synthesised in Germany in the late 19th century amphetamines were not patented until the 1930s. In the 1940s the drug came into therapeutic use for a variety of medical conditions such as epilepsy, depression and hyperkinetic children. Following World War II, amphetamines were promoted quite readily.
Amphetamines have a stimulant action similar to the naturally occurring hormone adrenalin which stimulates the activity of the central nervous system and increases the activity of the brain.
Amphetamines appear in a number of forms and when manufactured illegally can be found in powder, tablet, capsules or liquid.
Administration is by ingestion, injection, inhaled through the nose and smoked when in the form of methamphetamine hydrochloride.
Most common illicit manufacturing of amphetamine is in the form of methylamphetamine. The most common starting material for methylamphetamine is ephedrine, which is a legal substance, is readily available in tablets or capsules and is sold as a decongestant – and is being restricted by pharmacists.
Self medication with amphetamine is common among truck drivers, students, fishermen, and businessmen to stave off normal fatigue, enabling them to work for days with little sleep or food.
Effects usually wear off after 3 to 6 hours and the user can become suddenly tired, irritable, depressed and unable to concentrate.
Methylamphethatamine ‘ice’ when smoked can have an effect of between 2 to 16 hours depending on the amount taken.
Effects from amphetamines vary and depend on dosage, mode of administration, the individual, and the circumstances in which the drug is taken.
Low doses can result in a sensation of euphoria, heightened alertness, increased energy and activity, reduced appetite and self confidence. Long term use can lead to malnutrition, exhaustion, depression and psychosis. Death from stimulant use is rare but is more likely to occur with intravenous injection.
Tolerance can be pronounced where a long time user may need 20 times the initial dose to produce the same effect.
Has a reputation for facilitating social and sexual interactions which has implications for potential HIV risks as enhanced sexuality may not be accompanied by safer sexual practices.
Withdrawal symptoms during the initial period may be acute exhaustion, and for a regular user, it may be followed by irritability, lethargy, deep depression, anxiety attacks and episodic craving.