Amphetamine

What are amphetamines?

Speed, sulph, sulphate, uppers, wake ups, billy whizz, whizz, whites, base…Methylphenidate, Ritalin. Dexamphetamine, Dexedrine.

Methamphetamine, crystal meth, meth, yaba, crank, glass, Tina, Christine, ice.

speedAmphetamines are synthetic stimulants. Stimulants are drugs that speed up the body’s processes including heart and breathing rate.

Amphetamines increase energy levels and alertness. Users may feel more confident, happy and powerful or creative.

Medical use

Amphetamines are currently employed in treating a small number of disorders.

Dexedrine (dexamphetamine sulphate) is used in the treatment of narcolepsy – where the patient cannot help suddenly falling asleep. However, its use is increasingly being replaced by Modafinil.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Very rarely, amphetamines may also be used to treat obesity and certain types of depression that do not respond to other treatments.

Recreational use

As a street drug, amphetamine usually comes as a white, pink, grey or yellowish powder. It may also come as pills or a grey putty-like substance known as paste. It is usually sold wrapped in small pieces of paper (wraps).

The purity of street powders is usually less than 15%, with most deals having only 10% amphetamine. The rest of the product is comprised of other powders like glucose, vitamin C, laxative, dried baby milk baby, caffeine, or other drugs such as paracetamol or aspirin.

Powders are snorted up the nose, mixed in a drink or, by some heavy users, prepared for injection.

‘Base’ is a stronger form of amphetamine but its use has been declining for some time. Base is usually swallowed (often wrapped in cigarette paper first due to its bad taste). It can be snorted if dried out properly.

Methamphetamine

crystal-meth

Methamphetamine

Another, strong form of amphetamine is known as methamphetamine. More information on methamphetamine can be found on the methamphetamine DrugSearch page.

Prevalence

During the 1990s and noughties amphetamine was a popular drug among young people attending all night parties and dance events.

According to Home Office statistics published in 2016, around 1 in 10 adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales said they had used amphetamine at some point in their lives (10.3%). 0.6% of 16 to 59 year olds said they had used amphetamines in the last year. This makes amphetamine the fourth most popular illegal drug in England and Wales.

Globally, methamphetamine is the second most commonly used illicit drug, after cannabis. According to the 2016 Home Office statistics, methamphetamine use was reported in 0.2% of adults, reflecting the belief that this drug has not taken off as much in the UK as in other parts of the world. Globally, methamphetamine is reported as the second most commonly used illicit drug, after cannabis.

Price

According to the results of DrugScope’s 2014 street drug survey, amphetamine powder tends to sell at about £13 a gram.

History

Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 by Lazăr Edeleanu, a Romanian chemist working in Germany, however, it was not until the 1930s that it was used medically.

Under the trade name Benzedrine, amphetamines were used to treat a whole range of disorders including: fatigue, epilepsy, migraine, depression, alcoholism and schizophrenia.

During World War II, amphetamine and methamphetamine were employed for their performance-enhancing and stimulant effects, including to help combat ‘battle fatigue’. An estimated 72 million tablets were issued to British forces. German and Japanese soldiers also used amphetamines and Hitler is said to have been on daily injections. This pattern of use amongst troops continued amongst the US army in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Until 1956 many amphetamine based drugs could be bought over the counter without a prescription. Use among housewives, people who felt low and needed an energy boost (‘pep pills’ and ‘tonics’) and people who worked long hours or wanted to lose weight was common.

Non-medical use of amphetamines grew in the UK in the 1960s, especially among teenage ‘mods’. The use of ‘purple hearts’ (a combination of amphetamine and barbiturate) by thousands of young people led to the first post war drug craze (and media drug scare) in the UK. In 1964, unauthorised possession of amphetamine was banned.

In the 1970s and 1980s street use of amphetamine increased again and centred on a new generation of young people in the all night club scene of punk rock and Northern Soul. Illicitly manufactured powdered amphetamine for sniffing, replaced tablets stolen from factories as the main form of use.

The law

Most amphetamines are controlled as Class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Maximum penalties for possession are 5 years imprisonment plus a fine and for supply they are 14 years imprisonment and a fine.
Methamphetamine is a Class A drug. Possessing methamphetamine leads to a maximum sentence of 7 years and/or a fine. Possession with intent to supply, supplying and production all have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and/or a fine.
In practice, maximum sentences are rarely used. For more information please see the sentencing page on the Release website.

Effects/risks

Amphetamine and methamphetamine are stimulant drugs. They increase breathing and heart rate and lessen appetite. Users tend to feel more alert, energetic, confident and cheerful and less bored or tired. With high doses people often experience a rapid flow of ideas and feel they have increased physical and mental powers.

Like all drugs, the method taken determines how quickly and how intense the effects will be. If swallowed, the effects come on slower and are less intense. If snorted, smoked or injected, the effects are quick and, depending on dose, can be intense.

“It’s a wide awake buzz. It intensifies everything. It makes me feel really confident and energetic. You don’t feel hungry and can skip sleeping. It makes me talk a lot even though it’s probably bollocks. I used to get a lot of good rushes like feeling hot and cold, your hairs standing up all over your body and your head spinning. The problem now is all the crap. Whizz can be cut with anything from baking soda to battery acid. I only buy from people I know and stuff I’ve used before”

With some people, and especially as the body’s energy stores become run down, feelings of anxiety, irritability and restlessness are common. Taking a lot, especially over a few days, can produce panic and paranoia. This usually goes once the drug is eliminated from the body. The strong ‘upper’ effect can be particularly dangerous to people who have heart or blood pressure problems.

“I’ve had paranoia experiences. You can get someone walk past you in the street and you think My God. They just looked at me. They’ve got it in for me. They’ve got my number’. It can get really scary. I’ve had bad come downs on speed. It stops you sleeping and it is literally speedy, keeping you going all the time. It doesn’t inspire me in any way. It doesn’t give you time to stop and think. You’re just moving and doing all the time. Your body tells you to sleep but your mind’s constantly on the go. And then you come right down and you are low and knackered for ages”.

The effects of a normal dose last for about 4 – 8 hours and tend to leave the user feeling tired. It may take a couple of days to feel normal again.

There has long been particular concern about the power of methamphetamine and the potential for addiction. While the effects are largely the same as that for amphetamine, the strength and the way it is taken, can make methamphetamine an intense and difficult drug to come down from. Smoking very pure crystals causes a quick and very intense high, which often can lead to strong stimulation, paranoia and a nasty comedown.

Regular (meth)amphetamine use can lead to psychological dependence. Tolerance may develop so that more is needed to get the same effect. Heavy, regular use often leads to lack of sleep and food and lowers resistance to disease. Normal work and domestic routines may be disturbed. Many heavy users become run down and alternate between periods of feeling good and energetic then feeling depressed and low. Delusions, panic attacks, paranoia, a feeling of being ‘wired’ and hallucinations may also follow and some users experience violent mood swings.

“I am quite lazy by inclination and have had confidence problems at various stages of my life. Amphetamine seemed to solve both these problems. I didn’t get tired and I didn’t get self-conscious. In fact, I felt witty, energetic, powerful, amusing. For six months I thought I was God. I wrote masses, lost a lot of weight, which was bothering me at the time, and didn’t have to miss out on anything through the mundane need to sleep. The use gradually escalated until I was only sleeping about three nights a week… I woke up one day and decided I couldn’t stand it any more… There was this complete lassitude and depression in the first couple of days. I don’t think I’ve felt quite so low in my life… I could do virtually nothing, but what I would do was get up as early as possible, which effectively meant that after week two I was getting up at four instead of five, and a week or two after that, at noon. When I actually got to the point where eight hours’ sleep was enough and I could get up at 9 am I went back to work. This took about two months, but it was 18 months before I felt I was restored to the kind of human being I’d been before taking the speed.” Writer quoted in A. Tyler, Street Drugs. NEL 1986.

Harm reduction

  • Regular amphetamine use can lead to problems eating and sleeping, as well as feelings of anxiety and paranoia and a lowered resistance to infection. Therefore it is important to eat well and keep hydrated.
  • Stimulants can put a strain on your circulatory system by increasing heart rate so avoid mixing with other stimulant drugs.
  • Start low, go slow. Always start with one quarter or half a pill and wait an hour or two to judge the effects.
  • Injecting amphetamine is particularly dangerous as a high dose may be taken in one go. The drug is often very impure and should be filtered prior to injecting. If injecting equipment is shared there is a risk of infection such HIV or hepatitis.
  • Heavy amphetamine use is associated with teeth grinding and resultant dental problems. Chewing gum may help with this.
  • As with all drugs, it is better to be with people you can trust if you plan to use amphetamine.

See also DrugWise’s printable amphetamine factsheet (PDF)

Updated December 2016

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