Commonly called “speed” or “uppers,” amphetamines arouse the central nervous system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. They were originally introduced as prescription drugs to combat health problems like obesity and narcolepsy, but now most amphetamines are produced and sold illegally. Like other stimulants, amphetamines increase alertness and attention, decrease appetite, and produce a feeling of well-being. Highly addictive, amphetamines can produce physical and psychological dependence. Those who use amphetamines repeatedly, or in high doses, run the risk of nausea, paranoia, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, hyperthermia, and heart failure.
Methamphetamine is one of the stronger forms of this group, and can produce anxiety and hallucinations. It’s popular because it is easily produced in bathrooms and kitchens, is cheaper than cocaine, and produces a high that can last up to eight hours. The drug is mixed with other substances, which may be poisonous, and makes it hard to tell how much methamphetamine the user is really ingesting. It has various street names, depending on the way it is used. When swallowed or sniffed, it’s commonly called “crystal;” when injected it’s called “crank;” and when smoked it’s referred to as “ice” or “glass.”
Ecstasy, made up of MDMA, is considered a “designer drug” because its chemical structure is allied to both amphetamines and mescaline. With stimulant and hallucinogenic properties, ecstasy is like a psychedelic amphetamine. Under the influence of ecstasy, users are likely to experience sweating, teeth clenching, nausea, chills, blurred vision, tremors and palpitations. Because ecstasy is a stimulant, it elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. The combination of environmental factors frequently associated with ecstasy (tightly packed crowds, dancing, etc.) and elevated body temperature poses a major risk for dehydration. In fact, it’s not unusual for ecstasy users to die from dehydration. As a hallucinogen, MDMA causes illusions, disorientation, impaired coordination, and confusion. Long-term use of the drug can lead to physical tolerance and psychological addiction, intense depression, and anxiety.
What makes ecstasy even more dangerous is the number of pills sold as ecstasy that are not pure MDMA. These unknown substances can be extremely dangerous, sometimes lethal. Unless you know the ecstasy tablet is pure MDMA, the signs and symptoms associated with its use may not be accurate. Advocating ecstasy as a “feel good” drug, supporters claim it produces intensely positive feelings by eliminating anxiety and encouraging relaxation. Taken orally in tablet or capsule form, its effects last about four to six hours. Someone who overdoses will suffer faintness, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, panic attacks, and possibly loss of consciousness or seizures. Coming down from a high produced by ecstasy, users report suffering from sleep problems, anxiety, paranoia, and depression.
MDMA elevates mood by increasing serotonin levels. This depletion of the brain’s store of serotonin is what leads to depression after use of ecstasy. Even popping another pill won’t provide immediate relief because there is no serotonin left for the brain to release. MDMA not only affects your mood, but also your intelligence. Research shows that ecstasy damages the parts of the brain used for learning and memory. Even one use can lead to short-term memory loss.
Often prescribed to treat children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin increases the user’s focus and attention by increasing levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls mood and emotion. It’s a more potent stimulant than caffeine, but not as strong as amphetamines. Ritalin is often stolen and abused for its stimulant effects, which include appetite suppression, wakefulness, increased focus, and euphoria. You may recognize Ritalin use because the drug causes sweating, dry mouth, flushed skin, and a talkative mood. In addition to the symptoms associated with cocaine and amphetamine use, Ritalin may cause nervousness, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and high blood pressure.