Interesting Facts About Amphetamines

Rachel Ross, a Live Science Contributor, explains more about what amphetamines are and how and why they are used. They are basically central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that are called psycho-stimulants. They are used often in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD or ADHD), narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease and obesity, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland. They also have a high potential for abuse and are classified as Schedule II drugs by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The plant ephedra is native to China and Mongolia and has been used for many cultures as a stimulant for treating congestion and asthma. The plant contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine which are natural alkaloids or nitrogenous organic compounds causing a physiological response in humans. The chemicals are the basis of the creation of amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Amphetamines have been used in the development of a variety of drugs, mostly notably Adderall and Ritalin which treat ADD and ADHD. The addiction to this drug has been an issue since the 1940s and escalated in the 1980s with increased illicit production of methamphetamine known for its euphoric effects.

Those using amphetamines in treatment for ADHD are known to have too little dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. This is supposed to be the rational thinking, cognitive and planning part of the brain that tells the rest of your brain to calm down. Adderall and Ritalin increase dopamine production in the connections between the prefrontal cortex and other locations in the brain, allowing the prefrontal cortex to regain control.

The drugs can be safe and effective, but there can be side effects, such as enhanced mood, increased wakefulness, physical activity, increased respiration, insomnia, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, irregular or rapid heartbeat, cardiovascular collapse, reduced appetite, changes in sex drive, hyperthermia, permanent brain damage, memory loss, confusion, paranoia and hallucinations, convulsions or Parkinson’s-like tremors or cardiovascular collapse and stroke. These effects are linked to the increased production and release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.

These feelings may drive people to continue using the drug to continue the positive feelings the dopamine produces. The abuse of amphetamine skyrocketed as illegal methamphetamine production began in the 80s. There was a surge in prescriptions of these drugs and it has continued to increase over the past decade.

The physical changes that amphetamines can cause in the brain are permanent, but several therapeutic treatment programs can help people overcome their addiction.  Some include addiction education, family counseling, cognitive behavior therapy and peer-support groups.

Dr Fredda Branyon