Amphetamine refers to a group of synthetic drugs that produce both behavioral effects and physiological effects on the individual who uses them. All the drugs in the group are psychostimulants, that is, they increase the activity of the brain.
The year 1887 saw the synthesis of amphetamine by the Romanian chemist Lazar Edleanu. The compound was known by the name phenylisopropylamine and was the predecessor to methamphetamine. Amphetamine was not put to any medicinal use until after 1920 when it was found out that amphetamine dilates the bronchial sacs of the lungs. It therefore became a popular decongestant. It was also found out that it stimulates the central nervous system and raises blood pressure. In the year 1932, it was a constituent of Benzedrine inhalers, sold by Smith Kline and Beecham, which were used to treat hay fever and asthma and was called amphetamine. They were also popularly used to treat disorders such as depression, obesity, impotence, etc.
Narcolepsy, a type of sleeping sickness, was successfully treated using amphetamines in the year 1935. The same year saw M. H. Nathanson, a physician, conduct a scientific study on 55 subjects who were each given 20 mg of amphetamine. The two most common effects experienced were a sense of well being and exhilaration and less fatigue. Amphetamines slowly came into recreational use as Benzedrine inhalers became a popular over-the counter product. In fact, it became a convenient substitute for cocaine, which in the year 1914 had been declared by the federal government as an illegal substance to possess. Cocaine users thus switched to amphetamines.
World War II saw the extensive use of amphetamines to increase the alertness of the soldiers and reduce their fatigue. It is estimated that over 72 million amphetamine tablets were distributed among the soldiers. There were also a few reports of aggression bordering on psychosis in some of the soldiers. It was purported that the most heinous acts committed during the war were a result of the psychotic effect of amphetamines.
The post World War period saw the popularity of amphetamines surge. Both medical and non-medical use of amphetamines witnessed a steep rise. Amphetamines were lavishly used by students and truck drivers for wakefulness. Athletes used amphetamines as a performance enhancer and to increase endurance.
The 1950s and 1960s saw working class individuals use more amphetamines to increase performance and endurance. It was used as a weight-loss fix and antidepressant medication. Around the year college campuses had freely flowing 'fixes' and 'nuggets'. The 1960s various forms of speed (slang for amphetamine) were in use among students. More than a billion amphetamine tablets were being produced. Political leaders like Hitler were known to use up to eight amphetamine injections in a day. John F. Kennedy had amphetamines to relieve him of his back pain. Many a popular entertainer and musician of the time were known to have centered their lives on amphetamines.
In 1970, the use of amphetamines by civilians was declared illegal. Amphetamines were manufactured illegally and were sold in black markets. Amphetamine injections reached abuse levels among the public. Illegal amphetamines found their way into the U.S. market from Mexico and China.
Overuse of amphetamines was cut short by finding newer drugs that replaced them for medicinal use. Though the initial amphetamine epidemic was created by the pharmaceutical industry, the recent increase has been due to resurgence of the drug fashion and recreational drug cycles. These caused an increased illicit supply till the late 1980s. According to certain surveys, it is estimated that the early years of the 21st century saw more than 3 million Americans take stimulant-type of drugs. Curiously, the current rising epidemic is fueled by pharmaceutical companies once again and there has been an increase in the legal supply of amphetamines.
Amphetamines are widely prescribed by physicians as attention deficit medications as it paradoxically has a calming effect on such patients. The current amphetamine epidemic is in part purported to be the result of a possible connection between childhood stimulant treatments which lead to nonmedical amphetamine use in later years.
Today, amphetamine is still extensively used in the army as Adderall. Air Force pilots use them to keep awake on important and long missions. Known as the 'Go Pill' in Air Force jargon, the pilots are required to sign a form prior to using them. Refusal to take the pill increases the risk of them being designated unfit for a flying mission.