Benzedrine was the first brand of amphetamine marketed in the United States in the 1930s. Its use soon took off. Doctors prescribed it for conditions ranging from depression to narcolepsy.

The drug’s effects weren’t well understood at that time. As medical use of amphetamine grew, misuse of the drug started to increase.

Read on to learn about the history of amphetamine.

Amphetamine was first discovered in the 1880s by a Romanian chemist. Other sources say it was discovered in the 1910s. It wasn’t produced as a drug until decades later.

Benzedrine was first marketed in 1933 by the pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline, and French. It was an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant in inhaler form.

In 1937, the tablet form of amphetamine, Benzedrine sulfate, was introduced. Doctors prescribed it for:

  • narcolepsy
  • depression
  • chronic fatigue
  • other symptoms

The drug’s popularity skyrocketed. During World War II, soldiers used amphetamine to help them stay awake, have mental focus, and prevent fatigue.

By 1945, estimates show more than 13 million tablets of amphetamine were produced a month in the United States.

This was enough amphetamine for half a million people to take Benzedrine each day. This widespread use helped fuel its misuse. The risk of dependence wasn’t well understood yet.

Amphetamine sulfate is a stimulant that has legitimate medical uses. It’s approved for use in the United States for:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • narcolepsy
  • short-term use for weight loss (other amphetamine-containing drugs, like Adderall, aren’t approved for weight loss)

But amphetamine also has the potential for misuse. For example, students misuse amphetamine to help them study, stay awake, and have more focus. There’s no evidence this is helpful. Plus, repeated misuse increases the risk of substance use disorder, or addiction.

Benzedrine isn’t available in the United States any longer. There are other brands of amphetamine still available today. These include Evekeo and Adzenys XR-ODT.

Other forms of amphetamine available today include the popular drugs Adderall and Ritalin.

Amphetamine works in the brain to increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals are responsible for feelings of pleasure, among other things.

Increases in dopamine and norepinephrine help with:

  • attention
  • focus
  • energy
  • to curb impulsiveness

Amphetamine is considered a Schedule II controlled substance. This means it has a high potential for misuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

A 2018 study found that of the about 16 million people using prescription stimulant medications per year, nearly 5 million reported misusing them. Nearly 400,000 had a substance use disorder.

Some common slang names for amphetamine include:

  • bennies
  • crank
  • ice
  • uppers
  • speed

It’s illegal to buy, sell, or possess amphetamine. It’s only legal for use and possession if medically prescribed to you by a doctor.

Amphetamine sulfate carries a black box warning. This warning is required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medications that carry serious risks.

Your doctor will discuss benefits and risks of amphetamine before prescribing this medication.

Stimulant drugs can cause problems with your heart, brain, and other major organs.

Risks include:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • slow growth in children
  • sudden stroke
  • psychosis

Amphetamine has several side effects. Some can be serious. They may include:

  • anxiety and irritability
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • trouble with sleep
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • sexual problems

If your prescribed amphetamine’s side effects are bothering you, talk to your doctor. They may alter the dose or find a new medication.

In some cases, people may have a severe reaction to amphetamine. Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms of a severe reaction:

  • increased heart rate
  • chest pain
  • weakness on your left side
  • slurred speech
  • high blood pressure
  • seizures
  • paranoia or panic attacks
  • violent, aggressive behavior
  • hallucinations
  • dangerous increase in body temperature

Your body can develop tolerance to amphetamine. This means it needs higher amounts of the drug to get the same effects. Misuse can increase the risk of tolerance. Tolerance can progress into dependence.

Dependence

Long-term use of the drug can lead to dependence. This is a condition when your body gets used to having amphetamine and needs it to function normally. As the dose increases, your body adjusts.

With dependence, your body can’t function normally without the drug.

In some cases, dependence may lead to substance use disorder, or addiction. It involves changes in the brain, which drive a deep craving for the drug. There’s a compulsive use of the drug despite negative social, health, or financial consequences.

Some potential risk factors for developing substance use disorder include:

  • age
  • genetics
  • sex
  • social and environmental factors

Some mental health conditions may also increase the risk of a substance use disorder, including:

  • severe anxiety
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia

Symptoms of an amphetamine use disorder can include:

  • using the drug even though it has negative effects on your life
  • trouble focusing on daily life tasks
  • losing interest in family, relationships, friendships, etc.
  • acting in impulsive ways
  • feeling confusion, anxiety
  • lack of sleep

Cognitive behavioral therapy and other supportive measures can treat amphetamine use disorder.

Withdrawal

Suddenly stopping amphetamine after using it for a while can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

These include:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • tiredness
  • sweating
  • insomnia
  • lack of concentration or focus
  • depression
  • drug cravings
  • nausea

Symptoms of an overdose can include:

  • confusion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • high blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • stroke
  • seizures
  • heart attack
  • liver or kidney damage

There’s no FDA approved medication available to reverse amphetamine overdose. Instead, supportive measures to manage heart rate, blood pressure, and other drug-related adverse effects are the standards of care.

Without supportive measures, amphetamine overdose can lead to death.

Where to find help

To learn more or find help for substance use disorder, reach out to these organizations:

Benzedrine was a brand name for amphetamine sulfate. It was used to treat many different conditions from the early 1930s to the 1970s.

Misuse of the drug eventually led to a major decrease in production and tighter control of the drug by 1971. Today, amphetamine is used to treat ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity.

Amphetamine misuse can damage the brain, heart, and other major organs. An amphetamine overdose can be life threatening without medical attention.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your medication.