The consumption of products with stimulant effects is frequent in today’s society. Coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks… all of these have an activating effect on our organism that helps us to be more awake and energetic and that helps to maintain our state of mind.

But apart from those mentioned there are other substances considered drugs, whose potency is much higher . These are substances that, although they originated for medical use, are now also used recreationally, illegally, as they pose a risk to health due to their addictive potential and side effects.

Within these stimulants we find cocaine and the type of which we will talk about throughout this type, the amphetamines .

Amphetamines: type of substance and characteristics

Amphetamines are a type of substance classified within the group of excitatory or psychoanalytic . They are synthetic chemical compounds derived from beta-phenyl-isopropylamine, although they are originally derived from substances derived from the plant Catha edulis.

The term “amphetamine” in question usually refers to the group of substances derived from amphetamine acid or of similar composition , although within amphetamines there is a sub-group called the same way. As psychoactive activating agents they cause an increase in the functioning of the nervous system, increasing vigilance, alertness and physical and mental energy.

Its effects on the body

Its effects on the organism initially involve a feeling of euphoria and a considerable increase in energy , together with an expansive and uninhibited mood (although in some cases it may improve self-control). The subject remains awake and his cognitive abilities appear to be faster and more enhanced. The consumer tends to increase his level of awareness, attention and concentration.

Amphetamines generate the feeling of increased control and self-confidence , as well as giving the impression of clarity of thought. It also generates an increase in motor activity, raising the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Sleep, tiredness and hunger decrease.

Amphetamines have been used in a wide variety of circumstances: from medical use to treat various conditions to increased sports or even academic performance, to purely recreational use. They are usually consumed orally, although they can be given intravenously or inhaled in powder form. Their effects are very similar to those of cocaine, although they present fewer risks than cocaine.

Mechanisms of action

The mechanism of action of amphetamines is based on the reuptake blockade of monoamines , with special emphasis on those of dopamine and noradrenaline. In addition, they also influence the synthesis of these substances, causing more to be generated. This causes the effects of these neurotransmitters to last longer as they remain more in the synaptic space and are used by post-synaptic neurons

Amphetamines are therefore dopamine and noradrenaline agonists , which causes the pleasurable and energy-enhancing sensations typical of this group of substances. So is serotonin, but to a much lesser degree.

Medical Uses

Amphetamines are substances that, like most illegal drugs, are originally intended for medicinal purposes. In the specific case of amphetamines, such medicinal uses are still in force in a large number of cases, and medicines based on or derived from this type of substance s are often used to treat different ailments.

Specifically, they are currently used in some treatments for obesity (since it causes an increase in activity while reducing sensations such as fatigue and appetite), narcolepsy (its excitatory effects can combat sleep episodes) and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD (in these cases amphetamine derivatives are used since they improve attention span and reduce impulsive symptoms in this type of population).

Side effects and risks

Although the use of amphetamines can be beneficial in some cases and generates a temporary increase in physical and mental performance , the recreational and continuous use of these substances can cause serious effects in both the short and long term, especially if intoxication occurs or dependence is generated.

1. Dependency

Although they are not as addictive as cocaine, amphetamines have a high addictive potential due to their action on the brain’s reward system and to the progressive acquisition of tolerance that makes it necessary to consume more and more to notice the same effects.

2. Withdrawal syndrome

Abrupt withdrawal from amphetamine use can lead to withdrawal syndromes, which often have the opposite effect to that of amphetamine use. Thus, , fatigue and decreased energy , nightmares, insomnia, craving, motor agitation, anxiety and depression, inability to concentrate or emotional lability are usually observed.

3. Sleep problems

Whether it is limited to abstinence or not, one of the problems that amphetamine use can cause is difficulties in falling asleep or in the fact that it does not produce a feeling of rest.

4. Hallucinations and perceptual disturbances

Although the action of amphetamines is not focused on this aspect, sometimes the presence of visual hallucinations has been manifested.

5. Cardiorespiratory problems

Amphetamines have effects on the cardiovascular system, increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. Especially when intoxication occurs, it can generate tachycardia, sweating and pressure increases that can lead in severe cases to cardiorespiratory arrest.

6. Appetite

As mentioned above, amphetamines cause a decrease in appetite. While it can be beneficial for some people and is actually used to treat obesity, it may end up creating nutritional problems such as anemia.

7. Motor disorders

Both in intoxication and in abstinence it is common for amphetamines to cause alterations in the locomotive system. It is possible to generate weakness and slowing down or, on the contrary, agitation and tremors, which in cases of severe intoxication may lead to epileptic seizures.

8. Altered language

It is common for amphetamine use to cause logorrhoea resulting from the state of physical excitement. The subject has a rapid and profuse speech, although there may be leakage of ideas.

9. Emotional problems

It is frequent that in the long run the consumption of these substances generates emotional lability, going from joy to sadness with great ease and may generate anxiety or depression in its consumer. They can also generate suicidal thoughts .

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
  • Salazar, M.; Peralta, C.; Pastor, J. (2006). Manual of Psychopharmacology. Madrid, Editorial Médica Panamericana.
  • Santos, J.L. ; García, L.I. ; Calderón, M.A. ; Sanz, L.J.; de los Ríos, P.; Izquierdo, S.; Román, P.; Hernangómez, L.; Navas, E.; Ladrón, A and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical Psychology. Manual CEDE de Preparación PIR, 02. CEDE. Madrid.
  • Weiss, R.D. (2016). Drugs of abuse. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders.