Amphetamines are a stimulant because they speed up the functions of the central nervous system.
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Forms and Appearance
In powder form, legal preparations are white, odourless, crystalline powders with a bitter taste. Illegal preparations include fine to coarse powders, crystals and ‘chunks’.
The most common colours are off-white, yellow and pink. Tablets and capsules have various colours, sizes and shapes. Illegally produced amphetamines often have a strong, unpleasant smell which may be ‘fishy’ or ammonia-like.
Medical and Other Uses
Amphetamines have been used to treat:
- narcolepsy (uncontrolled episodes of sleep)
- attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- sedation caused by drugs prescribed for epilepsy
- Parkinson’s disease
- abnormally low blood pressure associated with anaesthesia
- obesity due to improper diet
- psychic depression.
Street combinations include: ‘goofballs’ (amphetamines and barbiturates); ‘speedballs’ (methamphetamine and cocaine and heroin); and ‘zoom’ (cocaine, heroin and amphetamines). LSD is sometimes combined with amphetamines, but usually the buyer is not aware of the presence of the other drug when buying.
Methods of Use
The powder form is commonly taken orally, by dissolving in a drink, licking off a finger, or, more rarely, by rubbing the powder into the gums. It is also dissolved in water and injected (the preferred method of the chronic, high-dose abuser). It can be sniffed up the nose or mixed with cannabis or tobacco for smoking, or smoked straight off tin foil.
Effects of Use
The effects of speed depend on:
- amount taken
- person’s experience with the drug
- their expectations
- mood they are in
- way in which the drug is taken
Effects also depend on the quality and purity of the drug. Small doses of speed can produce a feeling of well-being, and more self confidence and energy. It can also reduce appetite and make a person more alert. However, even a small amount can increase breathing and heart rate, and cause heart palpitations and anxiety or nervousness.
Higher doses can make the above effects more intense. In addition, sweating, headaches, dizziness, and a rapid or irregular heart beat may occur. Some people may become hostile and aggressive.
Using speed over a long period of time can cause health problems. These include: malnutrition from loss of appetite and sometimes diarrhoea ; reduced resistance to infection; increased blood pressure which increases risk of stroke; emotional disturbances and periods of psychosis. (Psychosis is when a person suffers from delusions and hallucinations. Symptoms include hearing voices, paranoia and a fear of harassment.)
Tolerance and Dependence
Tolerance develops rapidly with continued use.
Psychological dependence develops quickly in most regular users. Chronic high-dose use results in physical dependence.
There are no physical symptoms from abruptly discontinuing regular use. Rather, the prominent symptoms are extreme fatigue, followed by prolonged but disturbed sleep. Other symptoms include mental agitation, depression, irritability, panic and feelings of being unable to cope.
Fatal overdose is possible. This could occur at low doses with inexperienced users. Speed poisoning or overdose can cause brain haemorrhage, heart attack, high fever, coma and occasionally death. Most deaths, however, are due to accidents while under the influence of speed.