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.
Amphetamines 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.
Amphetamines can be used safely to treat some health conditions.
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.
Amphetamine sulphate commonly known as ‘Speed’ is used recreationally.
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.
Another, strong form of amphetamine is known as methamphetamine. For more information see methamphetamine.
During the 1990s and noughties amphetamine was a popular drug among young people attending all night parties and dance events. However its prevalence has been in long-term decline.
According to the Office for National Statistics in their Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020 publication (published December 2020) the use of amphetamines in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 years decreased by almost half compared with the previous year, from 0.6% (around 188,000 people) to 0.3% (approximately 109,000 people). In the year ending December 1995 that percentage was 3.3% (around 460,000 people). The use of amphetamines among young adults aged 16 to 24 years followed a similar downward trend, however use was at a similar level to year ending March 2019.
Globally, according to the United Nations World Drug Report 2021 (part 4), It is estimated that in 2019, 0.5% of the population aged 15–64, or 27 million people, had used amphetamines in the past year. North America had the highest estimated past-year prevalence of use of amphetamines (2.3%), followed by Oceania (1.3%). In the United States in 2019 about 1.8% of the population (nearly 5 million people) aged 12 and older reported the non-medical use of pharmaceutical stimulants in the past year, 0.7% (nearly 2 million people) reported the use of methamphetamine. The type and form of amphetamines used vary considerably among regions and subregions. In North America, the non-medical use of pharmaceutical stimulants and methamphetamine is the most prevalent. In many countries in South and Central America non-medical use of pharmaceutical stimulants is alo more common than the use of other amphetamines. In East and South-East Asia and Oceania, crystalline methamphetamine is most commonly used. In Western and Central Europe and in the Near and Middle East, use of amphetamine is most common.
Also from the United Nations World Drug Report 2021 (part 4), between 2015–2019 the number of amphetamine laboratories reported dismantled worldwide was 571, about 85% (488) were dismantled in Europe, in particular in Western and Central Europe with 380. Overall, 18 European countries reported the dismantling of amphetamine laboratories in the period 2015–2019.Also reported was that amphetamine trafficking is on the rise – the quantities of amphetamine seized have increased markedly at the global level over the past two decades, reaching a record high of 79 tonnes in 2019.
According to the results of DrugScope’s 2014 street drug survey, amphetamine powder tends to sell at about £13 a gram.
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.
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. However speed that has been prepared for injection becomes a Class A drug, so sentencing will be harsher if caught in possession or supplying.
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.
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.
- 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.
Updated January 2022