Amphetamines were first synthesized in 1887 by the drug company Smith, Kline and French. They were not marketed until 1932, however, as Benzedrine inhalers for relief from nasal congestion due to hay fever, colds, or asthma. In 1935, after noting its stimulant effects, the drug company encouraged prescription of the drug for the chronic sleep disorder narcolepsy. Clinical enthusiasm for the drug led to its misapplication for the treatment of various conditions, including addiction to opiates. The harmful effects of the drug were first noted by the British press, and in 1939 amphetamines were placed on a list of toxic substances for the United Kingdom.
The early abuse of Benzedrine inhalers involved the removal of the strip containing the amphetamines from the casing of the inhaler. The strips were then either chewed or placed in coffee to produce an intense stimulant reaction. Since the inhalers were inexpensive and easily obtainable at local drug stores, they were purchased by young people searching for ways of getting "high." But amphetamines became particularly popular in World War II. Soldiers on both sides were given large amounts of amphetamines as a way of fighting fatigue and boosting morale. The British issued 72 million tablets to the armed forces. Records also show that kamikaze pilots and German panzer troops were given large doses of the drug to motivate their fighting spirit. Hitler's own medical records show that he received eight injections a day of methamphetamine, a drug known to create paranoia and unpredictable behavior when administered in large dosages.
The demand for amphetamines was high in the 1950s and early 1960s. They were used by people who had to stay awake for long periods of time. Truck drivers who had to make long hauls used them to drive through the night. Those who had long tours of duty in the armed forces relied on them to stay awake. High school and college students cramming for tests took them to study through the nights before their examinations. Athletes looked to amphetamines for more energy, while English and American popular musicians structured their lives and music around them. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimated that there were well over 200 million amphetamine pills in circulation by 1962 in the United States alone.
During that period of time about half of the quantity of amphetamines produced were used outside of the medically prescribed purposes mandated by the legal system. Of the 19 companies producing amphetamines then, nine were not required to show their registry of buyers to the FDA. It is believed that these nine companies supplied much of the illegal traffic in amphetamines for that period.
By 1975 a large number of street preparations were being passed off as amphetamine tablets. Tests indicated that only about 10% of the street drugs represented as amphetamines contained any amphetamine substance at all. The false amphetamines were in fact mixtures of caffeine and other drugs that resembled amphetamine, such as phenethylamine, an over-the-counter drug used to relieve coughs and asthma or to inhibit appetite. Other false amphetamine tablets contained such over-thecounter drugs as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. These bootleg preparations came under such names as Black Beauty, Hustler, and Penthouse, and they were promoted in magazines that catered to counterculture sentiment.
The use of amphetamines and drugs like amphetamine showed a sharp decrease in the 1980s. The decrease was probably due to the increasing use of cocaine, which was introduced in the mid-1970s and continues to be a major street drug at the present time. Another reason was the introduction of newer types of appetite suppressants and stimulants on the pharmacological market and then to the street trade. Still, a survey done in 1987 showed that a large number of high school seniors (12%) had used drugs of the amphetamine type during the previous year.
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