Dexedrine (dexamphetamine)

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Smith Kline and French Benzedrine Inhaler

So What is Dexedrine & What’s the Story behind its Production?

Amphetamine (betaphenylisopropalamine) is a compound very similar to adrenaline, a naturally occurring chemical in the body and was first described by Sir Henry Dale and George Barger in 1910. Its action and structure resemble ephedrine (a decongestant). As to when amphetamine was first synthesized is open to some debate. A German chemist by the name of Edeleano claims to have done it in 1887, but then again, so does American research chemist Gordon Alles, but not until 1927 when looking for a substitute for ephedrine. Perhaps there is a case for saying that it was discovered in 1887, seemed of little significance and was forgotten about till 1927?

In order to deal with Dexedrine, we must first have a look at amphetamines as a whole. Amphetamines fall into three classes; amphetamine itself, dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) which is twice as strong as the original and methamphetamine (Methedrine) which is twice as strong again. Although a Japanese scientist called Mr. A Ogata, was the first to synthesize methamphetamine in 1919, it wasn’t until 1930 that it was realized that amphetamines raised the blood pressure.

As amphetamine closely resembles ephedrine, in 1932, Smith, Kline and French (SKF) the pharmaceutical company, began selling it in the form of a decongestant nasal inhaler under the name of Benzedrine, for people suffering from asthma and hay fever. It wasn’t until 1935 that the stimulant properties of amphetamine were recognized. Doctors soon began prescribing it for the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), Parkinsonism, obesity and behaviour disorders in children (children actually metabolise amphetamine in a different way to adults and it has a calming effect).

By 1937, The American Medical Association (AMA) approved the sale of Benzedrine tablets (fondly known as bennies) on prescription. Meanwhile in Britain, doctors at London’s Maudsley Hospital reported that bennies were being bought in chemist shops without medical supervision and condemned its over-the-counter sale. Because of this, after 1939 bennies were obtainable in Britain only on prescription or by the signing of the Poisons Register.

Reacting to the bad press over the misuse of the pills, SKF went back to supplying Benzedrine mainly in inhalers. Dexedrine itself, as an alternative to Benzedrine, started becoming available on prescription in 1942. Amphetamine in one form or another has been dished out to servicemen in every conflict since the Second World War in order to improve their efficiency, especially in combat situations. RAF pilots in WW2 however, didn’t like taking it as they wanted to fly ‘straight’ (no pun intended). In the USA, reports of people breaking open the inhalers and using the contents intra-venously began to surface in 1959. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this was still practiced in the mid 70s.

Dexedrine and the drug user

Dexedrine tablets, (or Dexies as we know them today) are white, 5mg tabs but they weren’t always like this. Some of the older users amongst us may remember when they were yellow and 10mg. It wasn’t for nothing that they were sometimes known as the ‘yellow peril,’ and the comedown called ‘dexititis.’ Back then, it was unheard of to crush and prepare the tablets for fixing as Methedrine ampoules were available to do that. Once Methedrine amps began being phased out in the late 1960s, people started using Dex spansules. Also known as ‘brown and clears’ because half the cap was brown and the other half transparent, Dexedrine Spansules were capsules filled with hundreds of tiny, time-release pellets, half white and half yellow; each capsule containing 30mg.

With no Methedrine ampoules available, people began to shoot up the spansules. A common way of doing this was to empty the caps into a dessert spoon and then crush the pellets with the back of a teaspoon. A small amount of boiling water was added and the resulting lucozade-coloured liquid was drawn up into a works, cooled and ‘voila’- you were ready to go. It didn’t take many to get a good hit, either. The availability of spansules soon became sporadic as doctors began to shy away from prescribing them and chemist burglaries became more difficult and less fruitful. However since the 1950s, Ciba, the Swiss pharmaceutical company had been manufacturing and selling methylphenidate, which basically is another kind of speed, under the brand name Ritalin.

Dexedrine to Ritalin to Dexedrine Again…

As the use of Dex spansules petered out, Ritalin moved into the space it was leaving until Rit was the only kind of speed available, usually used together with methadone amps or Diconal. Ritalin was quite plentiful for a time but once again, doctors came under increasing pressure to discontinue prescribing it. The result being that at first it became scarce and then virtually extinct! The gap it left was once again filled by Dexedrine in the form we know today.

Dexedrine, as with the other classes of amphetamines, creates the sensation of energy by activating the Central Nervous System (CNS). Any kind of amphetamine, however you take it produces an intense alertness and sense of confidence by acting on a part of the brain stem called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). Activity in this area depends on two different kinds of chemicals; some are excitatory like norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and others which are inhibitory such as gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Stimulants promote the release of noradrenaline which increases activity in the RAS and other parts of the brain and in this way, raises alertness. In adults, CNS stimulants like Dexedrine are used to treat narcolepsy and, taken in the correct dose increase wakefulness allowing normal thought processes and concentration to occur. When Dex is taken in excess however, it can produce over activity in the brain as well as anxiety, restlessness and sleeplessness. Amphetamines also stimulate the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system causing shaking and palpitations.

Side effects and risks

If you are using Dex tablets to inject on their own or as a supplement to methadone amps, the risks are fairly obvious. Transmission of the ‘usual suspects,’ HIV and Hepatitis C or B (HCV,HBV) are always possible unless you take all the precautionary steps; don’t share your works or any other injecting paraphernalia. Even having taken these steps, injecting crushed tablets, even if filtered, is not a good idea. All sorts of complications can arise. Handling the tablets or ripping up cigarette filters with dirty hands for example, could lead to any number of bacterial infections (see vein care in this issue) and even if filtered, Dex sediment will still enter your bloodstream.

There are instances where some people don’t even bother filtering the Dex solution before shooting it up. Doing this is unbelievably dangerous as even the tiniest particle can block the capillaries as they are so narrow, only a single blood cell can pass through them. Capillaries becoming blocked can lead to gangrene and in the worst cases possibly even amputation of the affected part. There are other side effects associated with the over use of Dexedrine, whether you inject or swallow them.

The most serious of these are seizures/fits and major disturbances in mental functioning that can result in delusions and hallucinations. I guess we all know someone who is a bit paranoid or seems a bit nutty down to using Dex but psychological problems, or physical ones associated with injecting crushed tablets, can cause a myriad of problems for the user. A heart condition called cardiomyopathy (a weakening of the heart muscle causing inadequate pumping) has been reported with prolonged use, but is quite rare. Again, there is a lack of research into how Dexedrine affects drug users over the longer term. We seem to be the guinea pigs…..

Today, there is less and less prescribing of Dexedrine to drug users and there are moves afoot to replace Dex tabs with an oral elixir, due, no doubt, to concerns over injecting. How many drug users are prescribed Dexedrine today is difficult to tell; the most recent data BP could locate goes back to 1995 when a study was conducted by two eminent doctors from the Maudsley Hospital (Strang & Sheridan). This study estimated that there were between 900 and 1,000 patients receiving Dex ‘scripts in England and Wales, 75% of these were getting tablets and the other 25% were on the elixir – the great majority of these being NHS.

People who got their scripts from hospitals or clinics tended to be on a lower daily dose and were more likely to be on a daily pick-up than those who were on with GPs. The study noted that there was a lack of consistency in prescribing policy throughout the country as different places had different ideas according to local health authorities. Following the growth of the amphetamine problem in the 1980s, the ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) advised that stimulant prescribing to addicts should be avoided in all but ‘the most exceptional cases in which the prescribing of non-opioids in the short-term may be helpful.’ There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that this may in fact be true if done carefully and thoughtfully.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert Owen

     /  October 1, 2013

    Methedrine ampoules were not “phased out in the late 60s” , as I recall, but withdrawn from distribution ( doctors could no longer prescribe nor pharmacies dispense ) over a single weekend in the summer of 1968. Something very like that anyway.

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