When one thinks of a user of amphetamines, one typically imagines of people with facial sores, teeth falling out or Jessie Pinkman and friends from Breaking Bad. However, though these images have some base, amphetamines are widely used by college students and professionals for a leg up in their work.
Many people use prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Vyvanse, Ritalin, Methylin and Metadate legitimately for the treatment of ADHD and weight loss. It is estimated that five to 35 percent of college students have used or continue to use amphetamines as a study aid, and many athletes use it as a performance enhancing drug, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
The methamphetamine epidemic seems to be a new problem, but amphetamines have a long history in the U.S. and around the world. Amphetamine molecules were first synthesized in 1887 in Germany by Romanian chemist Lazăr Edeleanu who named it phenylisopropylamine. Shortly after in 1919, Akira Ogata, a Japanese chemist first synthesized methamphetamine by reducing ephedrine from iodine and red phosphorous. Meth only differs by having an extra methyl group. Amphetamine came on to the scene in 1933 as an inhaler and in the later ‘30s as a tablet. It was not until WW2 that amphetamines began to be abused.
German pharmaceutical companies brought Pervatin (methamphetamine hydrochloride) to market prior to the war. Luftwaffe pilots and Nazi foot soldiers alike were given Pervatin to stay awake days on end and battle. Famously, Hitler was given IV injections from 1942-45, which has been suggested as a reason for his increasing paranoia. Amphetamine use was common among Japanese soldiers as well. Allied pilots were also given amphetamine to stay alert and focused.
Following the war, amphetamine addiction returned with some soldiers. Amphetamine was still loosely regulated and advertised to ‘50s housewives to work hard and raise children without fatigue. The ‘60s saw an increase in amphetamine use amongst hippies and businesspeople alike. JFK was also a known user of amphetamine. It was popularly used in Hollywood and music, known as Benzadrine, which inspired many songs. It was not until 1971 that amphetamine became a schedule two drug on the controlled substances act.
In the ‘70s, biker gangs began to sell “crank,” some of the first crystal meth to be seen on the streets. However, this remained largely underground. It was not until the late ‘80s-early ‘90s that crystal meth production and use exploded. The Amezcua brothers from Mexico, who started the Amezcua cartel, connected with 1/9 mass producers of ephedrine in the world and began to receive tons of ephedrine and started to first meth super lab in California. Tons of pure crystal meth quickly flooded the streets and Americans became addicted. As laws caught up and the use of meth advanced across the nation, the cartel and users became more industrious. Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine production and sale became extremely regulated and use and addiction dropped. Before, people would by boxes of pseudophed and sell it to home cooks for product in an act called “smurfing.” Home meth labs continue to exist, but because of the environmental damage caused by production of meth, it is quite obvious.
Amphetamines have been widely abused by college students since the ‘50s, and as students become more stressed, society becomes more competitive, and desire to achieve is universal, the use continues to increase. The use at Sam is consistent with other colleges around the country. It is not uncommon to see students looking for “addy” on class “groupme” pages prior to exams or finals. Some students do not seem to realize these are illegal drugs and the sale is still drug dealing. The use of amphetamine among college students is examined in a new Netflix documentary, “Take Your Pills.” It is produced by Maria Shriver and Christina Schwarzenegger, daughter of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The following story is from a student at SHSU, who we will call “Jane,” for the sake of anonymity.
“I first took it (Adderall) my sophomore year of college I think. I use it maybe once every couple of months. It makes schoolwork seem interesting and helps me focus for long periods of time. The comedown is really bad if I take a high dose or don’t stay hydrated enough (I feel really shaky and sick). I took a 70mg once and the comedown was bad. I usually take 30 mg. I’ve learned how to take care of myself when I take it so that doesn’t happen. I’ve never experienced psychosis or hallucinations. Side effects are that I lose all appetite and tend to sweat and feel hot. And my heart beats faster. The benefits are that it helps me get a lot of schoolwork done and lets me stay up all night without getting tired.”
“Jane’s” story is pretty typical of college students who use Adderall only once in a while. Of course, risks still exist. If one is susceptible to depression or mental illness, stimulants can induce psychotic states. The rush of dopamine floods the receptors and once the user has discontinued use, there is a lack of dopamine for a while. The effects are similar to schizophrenics, whose disease is characterized by too much dopamine, resulting in psychosis, hearing voices, and constant, uncontrollable thoughts.
The next story is from “Dug” a 23-year-old former meth addict and user of prescription amphetamines.
“I tried Adderall on multiple occasions starting around 15. I would go as far as to say they (meth and Adderall) are nearly identical in effects. At first, it made me feel normal, like I felt like I finally could dedicate all of my attention to a particular task without distraction for the first time in my life. At first It benefited me greatly I was more productive energized and focused than I’d ever been. But after continued and prolonged use the lack of nourishment and sleep will began to literally disable you from functioning normally. You get to a point where it’s almost impossible to formulate a simple thought. It really changed me. It wasn’t until after a year clean that I started to think clearly again. I still wouldn’t say I’m 100% myself even now. I would say stop before it fucks up your Neuro pathways and creates real damage. If you feel you need stimulant medication then get clean and see a psychiatrist, if it’s too late for that I encourage people to seek help in the room (AA or NA). For me I most definitely self-medicated in the beginning. Later on it was to avoid dealing with my emotions. (It had a tendency to make me very emotionless). I was lucky in that my problem was arrested and I forced to get clean by the justice system through counseling, probation, and NA. I hate the stigma around the typical tweaked that is associated with meth use. I think it can make people too embarrassed to seek help.”
Amphetamine users will commonly have no appetite, which “Dug” refers to. This is why it is prescribed to some for obesity. Pharmaceutical methamphetamine is still prescribed in some cases, under the name Desoxyn. Many who use drugs are drawn to specific drugs because of a psychological need, such as “Dug” using meth to self-medicate for ADHD, or someone using Xanax who has severe anxiety. This is why seeing a psychiatrist and seeking mental health services is imperative. “Dug” was lucky to beat meth addiction. It is one of the most addictive substances and fewer than 20% of addicts beat the addiction. Many more are incarcerated for years, where as “Dug” was arrested for minor crimes.
I am personally familiar with amphetamine use. I am bipolar and have taken countless drugs to try and get mental stability. I have taken benzodiazepines (Kolonopin), anti-depressants (Zoloft), anti-anxiety (Effexor), tranquilizers (Trazadone), and bipolar meds (Lamictal), they were all prescribed as well. I have had a relatively normal life since being diagnosed and on a stable cocktail, but as many who take bipolar meds, I felt sluggish and tired a lot of the time. I was prescribed Vyvanse about six months ago and all the side-effects from the other meds seem to be eradicated. Many say we all have a little ADHD, but that’s not true. It’s normal to feel unmotivated or distracted sometimes, but when you have a difficulty retaining information or staying concentrated, it’s a problem. It is not abnormal for ADHD to coexist with anxiety, depression, and bipolar, in my case. Since taking Vyvanse, my mood has improved more, I can think more clearly, pay attention better, retain information, and do better on exams. However, there is a difference between illicit use of amphetamine and medical use. There have also been some downsides to Vyvanse, such as erratic sleep and appetite. When I do get to sleep it is often hard, but it also feels restless. I also feel exhausted when I wake up, and unlike Adderall, Vyvanse take 1.5 hours to kick in, so you need coffee to get it to take effect more. I also do not feel the urge to eat much, and when I do its usually just dinner. Vyvanse, for me at least, with a medical use does not provide any high or feeling of euphoria or grandiosity, I just feel normal.
To many with legitimate need for prescription drugs, it can be insulting for others to use the drugs they need to be normal for the sake of getting high or getting a larger leg up. For instance, when someone says, “take a Xanax,” that is very insulting to someone who needs that to not have a panic attack. Additionally, when one needs Adderall to be able to function and perform in school or work, and someone who does not suffer a disease uses it, it is an insult for them to use it to get a larger advantage on them.
What one chooses to put in their body is their own choice, and the law should reflect that. However, before you make that choice, you should be informed on the risks and side effects. You never know what you are getting or if you have a heart condition or mental illness which may be exacerbated by amphetamine. Amphetamine is highly addictive and even if one uses it now to help and will never use it again, others may become addicted for life.