Stimulants such as amphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Used under prescription, stimulants can be safe and effective.
Amphetamine sulphate, or speed, is also used for recreational and non-medical purposes. It can lead to euphoria, and it suppresses the appetite, which can lead to weight loss. Used outside the medical context, stimulants can have severe adverse effects.
In this article, we will look at amphetamine’s medical uses, its side effects, and how it is misused.
Fast facts about amphetamines
- Amphetamines are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants.
- They are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
- Adverse effects include restlessness, acne, and blurred vision.
- Rarer side effects include seizures, heart problems, and psychosis.
- Amphetamines are used for recreational purposes. They are addictive.
Amphetamine activates receptors in the brain and increases the activity of a number of neurotransmitters, especially norepinephrine and dopamine.
Dopamine is associated with pleasure, movement, and attention.
Amphetamine has been trialed for a wide variety of conditions. Now, it is mainly used to treat ADHD, and, rarely, depression. In the past, it has been used to treat narcolepsy and to help with weight loss, but this is less common now.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, irritability, mood instability, attention difficulties, lack of organization, and impulsive behaviors.
It often appears in children, but it can continue into adulthood.
Amphetamines reverse some of these symptoms and have been shown to improve brain development and nerve growth in children with ADHD.
Long-term treatment with amphetamine-based medication in children appears to prevent unwanted changes in brain function and structure.
Scientists carrying out a review of 20 studies concluded that stimulants are probably helpful for people with ADHD.
They found that the brain structures of people who took stimulants for ADHD were more likely to resemble the brain structures of people without the condition than to resemble those with ADHD who did not use the drugs.
A review published in Cochrane in 2011 suggested that adults with ADHD might benefit from short-term use of amphetamines, but that they were unlikely to persist with the treatment because of adverse effects. Those who use mixed amphetamine salts, however, were more likely to continue with the treatment.
A person with narcolepsy will experience excessive daytime sleepiness and irresistible sleep episodes, called “sleep attacks.”
In a person with this condition, strong emotions can trigger a sudden loss of muscle tone, or cataplexy, which causes a person to collapse and possibly fall down. It also involves frequent and unexpected bouts of sleep.
Amphetamines and amphetamine derivatives have been used in the past to treat narcolepsy.
Due to concerns over their side effects, however, amphetamines are increasingly being replacedby modafinil, a medication that promotes wakefulness.