Amphetamines Basics

Amphetamines is the name given to a group of synthetic stimulants which are chemically similar to adrenaline, the hormone used for 'fight or flight' emergencies. This class of drug works on the body's central nervous system and increases its activity. There are three main types: amphetamine sulphate, more commonly known as "Speed"(also known by its trade name, Benzedrine); dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine or "Dexy's Midnight Runners"); and methamphetamine (Methedrine or "Meth"), the most potent of the three.

Speed is not a new drug by any means. It was first developed in the 1920s and was used as an antidepressant. Amphetamines were used to treat depression, as well as a decongestant. It was also given to soldiers during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam to help them stay awake for longer periods of time.


Of all street drugs, speed is the most variable in appearance, mainly because the pure product is so rare. They can be in the form of a white, pale yellow or pale pink powder or a paste. When the drug is a distinct color (brown, orange, reddish), this is due to impurities in the drug and "backroom" methods of synthesis. The drug can be snorted or dabbed on the gums. It is available in a liquid form or as a tablet. Amphetamines have a bitter taste when swallowed.

Larger and purer crystals are sometimes available but these are usually primarily for cooking up and injecting. And then there's the 'base,' an off white / brown / pink gritty paste, usually much purer than powder (the texture makes it too difficult to mix with anything else). Illegally manufactured speed pills do exist but are usually sold as (fake) Ecstasy rather than as speed.

Street Names for Amphetamines

Amphetamines are known by a number of names on the street. Here are some examples:

  • Bennies
  • Black beauties
  • Bumble bees
  • Co-pilots
  • Crank
  • Cross tops
  • Crystal meth
  • Dexies
  • Footballs
  • Hearts
  • Hot Ice
  • Ice
  • L.A. glass
  • Meth
  • MDMA
  • Pep pills
  • Speed
  • Uppers

Crystal Meth

Also known as 'crystal meth' or 'glass', ice is a smokeable freebase form of methamphetamine which originated from Hawaii and is now very common in America. Like crack-cocaine, it comes in larger crystals or rocks. When smoked, its effects are comparable to crack in intensity but are much longer lasting. Users can also snort or inject crystal meth.

It is highly addictive, since it directly affects the level of dopamine the brain produces. When dopamine levels in the brain are made to increase repeatedly, it triggers cravings. Once the cravings start, the person using ice gets caught up in the cycle of addiction:

  • Use the drug
  • Experience the rush associated with crystal meth use
  • Come down from the high
  • Get a craving
  • Use the drug
  • Etc.

Addiction to Ice

According to statistics published by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10.4 million Americans 12 years of age or older have tried crystal meth at least once. More than 1.4 million people in the U.S. admitted trying the drug in 2006. There are a number of reasons why addiction to ice is such a widespread problem:

  • It is cheap and readily available
  • Crystal meth is easy to produce in home laboratories.
  • Ice is easy to use.

Purity of Glass

Speed is notoriously impure. The average one gram wrap is 10% amphetamine, 90% adulterant - anything from vitamin C powder, glucose powder, caffeine, flour to baby milk. When meth seized by drug agents in 2006 was analyzed, the average purity of the product was 51 percent. A year earlier, glass seized and analyzed by law enforcement was a much purer product, averaging 77 percent at that point.

Legality of Meth

Amphetamines are class B prescription only drugs under the Medicines Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Therefore, doctors can prescribe them to patients legally, but any other unauthorized production, supply or possession is an offense.

In the US, amphetamines are categorized under Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act. Cocaine shares the same classification. Under the law, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute or dispense amphetamines. It is also a criminal offense to possess amphetamines. The penalties for an offense under the Act include a fine or imprisonment.

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