Amphetamines (more commonly known as speed) belong to a group of drugs called psychostimulants which stimulate the central nervous system. Amphetamines speed up the messages going to and from the brain to the body. Most amphetamines are produced in backyard laboratories and sold illegally. It usually appears as a whitish yellow powder, and occasionally in liquid. People who buy amphetamines illegally are sometimes buying these drugs mixed with other substances that can have unpleasant or harmful effects.

People use speed for various reasons: getting high to dance and party all night is one of them. It can help you stay awake for long periods of time. Some use it to do better in sport or at work, or to boost their self-confidence.

Amphetamines can reduce tiredness and increase endurance. For medical purposes, they are prescribed to treat narcolepsy (where a person has an uncontrollable urge to sleep) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are most commonly swallowed, injected (methamphetamine) or smoked. They are also “snorted”.

The body’s activity accelerates – heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure increase. A dry mouth, increased sweating, enlargement of the eye’s pupils and headaches might occur, too. Users might feel energetic and full of confidence, with a heightened sense of wellbeing. Other effects include feeling wide awake and alert, becoming talkative, restless and excited, and having difficulty sleeping. The user might also get panic attacks. Reduced appetite is another effect.

Some users become anxious, irritable, hostile and aggressive. Sometimes people feel a sense of power and superiority over others.

Most amphetamines sold illegally contain a mixture of pure amphetamines and other substances such as sugar, glucose, bicarbonate of soda and ephedrine. These additives can be highly poisonous. They can cause collapsed veins, tetanus, abscesses and damage to the heart, lungs, liver and brain. Because users don’t know whether they are using 5% or 50% pure amphetamines, it is easy to overdose by accident.

Very high quantities of amphetamines can cause paleness, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tremors, irregular heartbeat, stomach cramps, sweating, restlessness, irregular breathing and loss of coordination. Some users have collapsed after taking amphetamines. High quantities can also create an “amphetamine psychosis”, characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and aggressive or violent behaviour.

Some users have had strokes, heart failure, seizures and high body temperature. Some have died. Injecting runs a greater risk of overdosing because large amounts of the drug flood the bloodstream and quickly goes to the brain.

As the effects wear off, a user might experience symptoms including uncontrolled violence, tension, radical mood swings, depression, and total exhaustion. Regular use of amphetamines might result in chronic sleeping problems, anxiety and tension, high blood pressure, and a rapid and irregular heartbeat.

To combat these drug-related effects, users often take alcohol, benzodiazepines, other sedatives/hypnotics, cannabis and available opiates. Taking other drugs to cope with some of the undesirable effects of amphetamines can result in a “roller-coaster” dependence on several drugs. For example, some people need amphetamines to get them going each day, and benzodiazepines to get them to sleep each night. This type of dependence can lead to a variety of serious physical and psychological problems.