Amphetamine and its derivative methamphetamine are potent central nervous system stimulants. While both were initially used for medical purposes, such as treating nasal congestion and depression, methamphetamine is now mainly used as a recreational drug. 

Amphetamines can be found in pharmaceutical products with specific formulations, but generally both drugs are illegally synthesized in clandestine laboratories sold for recreational use. . In the United Kingdom they are a Class B drug and recreational methamphetamine consumption, distribution and production are illegal in many countries.

Amphetamines – Overview about the drug & its sub-types

Amphetamines are a group of central nervous system stimulants, used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and other conditions. Benzedrine was the first pharmaceutical amphetamine. Today, the pharmaceutical form is prescribed as racemic amphetamine under the trade name Adderall. 

When used for its therapeutic purposes, amphetamine has certain cognitive and emotional effects such as euphoria, increased wakefulness as well as improved cognitive control. It can also increase muscle strength and improve the user’s reaction time to events. 

A number of substitute derivatives of amphetamine exist and they rely on the chemical with the same name as their main component. More specifically, amphetamine is a chemical that includes a racemic free base, with equal parts of two enantiomers, levoamphetamine and dextroamphetamine.  

The different derivatives are formed by replacing one or more hydrogen atoms in the core structure of the chemical with substituents. This creates several other subtypes, such as methamphetamine (cooked in improvised laboratories known as meth labs), MDMA (the psychoactive drug primarily known as ecstasy) or decongestants such as ephedrine (a medication and stimulant used for treating several types of conditions). 

The adverse effects of amphetamines and methamphetamine are diverse. The normal doses approved in products such as Adderall are safe for long-term therapeutic use and under the supervision of a treating physician. However, recreational use of both amphetamine and methamphetamine includes much larger unregulated doses with a much higher risk of developing addiction and can cause serious adverse effects. 

Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, may be administered in many ways, such as smoking, snorting and injecting (also referred to as “shooting up meth”).

Side-Effects of Using Amphetamines & Methamphetamines

Amphetamines are currently used to treat ADHD or narcolepsy and they can also be prescribed in certain obesity treatments. However, as powerful central nervous system stimulants, they can be highly addictive. Some of the physical side-effects associated with amphetamine use can include the following: 

  • loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss
  • acne, rashes or hives
  • blurred vision
  • dry mouth
  • nasal congestion or nosebleed
  • difficulty urinating
  • erectile dysfunction
  • high or low blood pressure

The psychological effects of amphetamines can include:

  •  Anxiety,
  •  irritability, mood swings,
  •  insomnia, 
  •  obsessive behaviours and, in some severe cases, 
  • psychosis. 

Moreover, there is evidence that suggests that amphetamines administered in children for the treatment of ADHD may slow their growth (with a possible rebound once administration is ceased). 

When amphetamines are  used as a recreational drug in large unregulated doses , it can lead to psychosis and delusions, paranoia, decreased cognitive ability and cardiovascular problems. 

The physical adverse effects of methamphetamine can include hyperactivity, dilated pupils, flushed skin and excessive sweating, irregular heartbeat (accelerated or slowed), headache, dry mouth, dizziness, tremors and others. Psychological adverse effects include insomnia, irritability, restlessness, euphoria, anxiety, depression.

Warning Signs of Amphetamine / Methamphetamine Abuse

The psychological side-effects described above may be used as signs of amphetamine or methamphetamine abuse: 

  • Eating and sleeping disturbances, 
  • mood swings, 
  • aggression, 
  • irritability, 

Prolonged sleeping disorders can indicate that an individual has an abuse problem with prescribed amphetamines or the recreational use of methamphetamines. 

Another warning sign may be a loss of interest in one’s relationships, hobbies or other areas that were previously of interest. While people with addiction will initially try to conceal the use of methamphetamine, this will become more prominent as the dependence sets in. Procuring and administering the drug will become a priority to the user, leaving little to no room for other activities. What is more, other signs of methamphetamine abuse include needle marks on the arms or legs, skin abscesses, respiratory problems, cough or hoarse voice (when the meth is smoked). 

Health Risks of Amphetamine Abuse and Meth Abuse

Long-term amphetamine and methamphetamine consumption presents many health risks to the user. Because these two drugs increase the dopamine levels in the brain, chronic users will find it difficult to experience pleasure other than when administering the drug. Tolerance usually develops with regular administration and, when the drugs are administered for recreational purposes, tolerance can develop rapidly. 

Chronic users can be subject to the following health risks: 

  • respiratory issues;
  • heart disease;
  • liver failure;
  • dental issues such as blackened teeth;
  • high blood pressure;
  • arrhythmias;
  • loss of bladder control;
  • reproductive problems;
  • birth defects in babies;
  • heart attack, stroke, sudden death.

The long-term psychological effects, especially in the case of recreational methamphetamine abuse, include impaired cognition, memory loss, delusions and paranoia, aggression, depression or the inability to feel pleasure. 

Because of the numerous health risks associated with prolonged consumption, the overall health state of an individual seeking addiction treatment may be a precarious one. This is why medical supervision and adequate therapeutic treatment for our patients at Castle Health is very important. 

Amphetamine and Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Common withdrawal symptoms in case of amphetamine abuse include fatigue, depression, craving the drug, increased appetite, insomnia, tremors and loss of motivation. In the case of methamphetamine, the symptoms can also include paranoia, hallucinations, fever, red eyes, confusion, nausea, severe depression and in some cases even suicidal thoughts. 

In the case of therapeutic amphetamine use, the mild withdrawal symptoms can be controlled by gradually decreasing the dose under medical supervision.

The severity of the symptoms depends on the duration of the dependence as well as the age of the individual. In the case of methamphetamine users, the symptoms may peak in two to  three days after the last use and may subside within one week. The psychological withdrawal effects may last for a number of weeks and patients suffering from depression may need a longer time to recover. Appropriate care is essential during this phase and our team of qualified medical professionals at Castle Health offer ongoing support and care for all patient needs. Their detox medication dose and treatment plan are regularly reviewed to adapt to their progress and ensure a safe and gentle detox. 

Amphetamine and Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment at Castle Health

At Castle Health, we provide fully personalised treatment plans. Our team starts with a comprehensive initial evaluation, followed by a medically assisted detox phase if needed. Because addiction is a powerful disease, medication is commonly used during the first days of experiencing withdrawal. The medication is constantly observed and adjusted as the patient’s overall physical and psychological state improves. 

Detox is accompanied by specialist individual and group therapies that look at the underlying root causes of addiction and help the patient become mentally, physically and emotionally stable. 

Please contact us for more detailed information about our long-term addiction treatment programme for amphetamine and methamphetamine addiction.