(brand names: benzedrine, dexedrine) and the related methylamphetamine (brand name: pervitine), or speed in street parlance, are substances which stimulate the sympathic nervous system by affecting the neurotransmitter noradrenaline.
The dopamine and serotonin systems are also affected.
Two mechanisms play a part in this process:
firstly, the stimulus transfer is strengthened by the stimulation of the secretion of these neurotransmitters;
secondly, this takes place through the blocking of the re-uptake of these neurotransmitters.
The combination of these effects is known as the 'sympathomimetic effect'; substances which bring about these effects are known as sympathomimetics.
MDA and MDMA (XTC) also have these effects on the basis of their structural resemblance to amphetamine, but their effects are much milder.
Amphetamines work in the CNS and peripherally: receptors are located in the heart, blood vessels, and smooth muscle tissue.
All sympathomimetics imitate the effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are substances which enable the body to perform physical activity under situations of stress: the fight/flight reaction. This takes place by: increased blood pressure, increased heart beat, bronchial dilation, dilation of the blood vessels to the skeletal muscles, dilation of the pupils, emptying of the bladder and intestines ('wetting one's pants in fright') as peripheral effects, and an increase in alertness, sensitivity to stimuli, loss of appetite and increased self-awareness as the most important central effects.
The results of amphetamine use are lack of hunger and sleep and a strong urge to move. The increased self-awareness ('I can do it') results in a loss of self-criticism, while in some cases it can lead to psychological dependence. It can lead to paranoid psychosis. However, receptiveness in this direction varies greatly from one individual to another.
Physical effects are: diarrhoea, palpitations, dizziness.
Chronic use leads to severe loss of weight and exhaustion, reduced resistance to infections, swollen and painful testicles, tremors, ataxia, disturbances of the cardiac rhythm, pain in the muscles and joints. Sudden heart failure can occur under severe strain: athletes on dope. An overdose through intravenous application results in heavy pain in the chest, a sharp rise in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness, often accompanied by convulsions. The result is often fatal.
Withdrawal symptoms after chronic amphetamine use are relatively minor: the most striking is the need to catch up on lost sleep. Genuine physical dependence does not occur, but repeated continuous use (speed run) results in extreme exhaustion and depression, which can be counteracted by renewed use, so that a sort of imitation physical dependence is created. A large tolerance can soon be built up, leading to an increase in the dose.
The use of amphetamine, unlike that of opium or cannabis, is a very recent phenomenon. Amphetamine was first synthesized at the end of the 1930s. It was used as a stimulant for soldiers during World War II: every soldier's kitbag included benzedrine tablets. It was also regularly used as a slimming aid until the 1960s. I
t was a legal drug: the main suppliers were doctors. As a result of its stimulating properties, it soon became popular among truckers who had to drive long distances. The long days, or rather nights, that were and still are common in the catering business made this drug very popular in those circles as well. These groups, which used amphetamine on an exclusively 'professional' basis, were almost always able to keep its use under strict control.
In the 1960s it became popular among working class youths. They chose speed in the automat rather than youth centres with or without hash, and not all of them were able to keep their use under control. These became the speed freaks who kept awake for days by using amphetamines, visibly wasted away because of the way it reduced their appetite, and in many cases ended up to a greater or lesser degree paranoid.
Amphetamine use was not popular among the hippies who were on cannabis or LSD, as can be seen from slogans like 'speed kills'. As a result, the use of amphetamine in the Netherlands remained restricted, unlike the situation in Scandinavia or Japan, where it became extremely popular despite the fact that it was illegal.
Mainly because of its prevalent medical use, amphetamine initially did not fall under the law on opium, but under the law on prescribing medicines, so that unauthorized dealing was merely a misdemeanour, not a crime.
Consequently, prosecution and sanctions for the production of amphetamine in the Netherlands were not heavy, so that a by no means insignificant illegal amphetamine production was organized, particularly for the Scandinavian market.
The first international restrictions on amphetamines were imposed in connection with the Vienna Psychotropic Materials Treaty of 1970.
They were not included under the Opium Law in the Netherlands until 1976, which resulted in a sharp rise in prices on the black market: the price rose in no more than six months from 25 cents a tablet (amphetamine) or ten guilders a gram (pervitine) to around 100 guilders a gram.
Interest in amphetamine dropped in the 1980s, partly through the rise of cocaine.
The Netherlands is still a significant illegal amphetamine producer, and the main market is still Scandinavia, although Poland has become a major competitor in this market over the last few years.
The consumption of amphetamine in Europe has risen sharply during the last few years, whether sold under the name XTC or not, largely in connection with the dance culture.
A more or less new form of use is ice, i.e. methylamphetamine ('crystal') that can be smoked. According to US reports, this is methylamphetamine powder that has been transformed into a single solid crystal with a high level of purity. The nature of the conversion process is not known to date. There are two standard procedures for the production of methylamphetamine, only one of which is suitable for making ice. The one which is suitable for making ice is not the conventional procedure in the US at the moment, but in the Far East.(note 48) Its use originated in South-East Asia: Korea (under the name 'hiroppon'), Japan and the Philippines (it is known in both of these countries as 'shabu'). It appeared in Hawaii around 1985, and soon spread to the US, especially after 1988, reaching the West Coast, Arizona, Florida and Washington D.C. The drug is imported by Philippine and Korean gangs from the Far East. Smoking is a highly effective method of consumption; the effects are much more pronounced than with oral or intravenous application. Chronic use can lead to acute psychosis with auditory hallucinations and extreme paranoia. Unlike cocaine psychosis, it does not pass away rapidly, but can last for weeks. (note 49)
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