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The Effect of Amphetamine on Human Physical Health

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Amphetamines are CNS stimulants that affect the psychomotor activities in the brain. Additionally, amphetamines cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and alertness. Due to its similar effects to adrenaline, which is an endogenous hormone, amphetamines can also lead to vasodilation and bronchodilation. Amphetamines are classified as a Schedule II substance because of its highly addictive properties and potential adverse side affects. Amphetamine is a drug that is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the United States, due to its psychological effects of increased alertness and concentration. Along with treating ADHD, amphetamines are also typically used to treat narcolepsy and even obesity. Amphetamines are prescribed broadly to patients who suffer from ADHD; thus, it is not a surprise that people who are not even prescribed abuse this drug. The majority of the population that abuses this drug are college students, in an effort to endure a sleepless night, usually in order to complete school. Furthermore, amphetamines are not only limited to treat disorders but are also used as ergogenic drugs in sports.
 Similar to many other substances, amphetamines are synthesized from naturally occurring plants and other components and must be created in a lab.

According to Sulzer, Sonders, Poulsen, & Galli 2005, amphetamines are synthesized from the plant ephedra sinica, mostly known as ephedra and in China as Ma huang. This plant has been used for thousands of years to treat asthma and upper respiratory infections (p. 408). In 1887, ephedrine was identified in Japan by the founder of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan: Nagajoshi Nagai. That same year, Lazar Edeleanu of Romania invented synthetic amphetamine at the University of Berlin (Sulzer et al., 2005). It wasn’t until 1927 that methylphenethylamine (amphetamine) was first synthesized by chemist, G. A. Alles, while searching for a cheaper and more easily synthesized substitute for ephedrine (Heal, Smith, Gosden & Nutt, 2013).

In 1935, the trade name ‘Benzedrine’ was registered by the pharmaceutical company, Smith, Kline and French. They introduced Benzedrine commercially to treat narcolepsy, mild depression, post-encephalitic Parkinsonism and many other disorders (Heal et al., 2013). Once Benzedrine hit the market, people started to notice its “cognitive-enhancing properties” which led to a widespread use of the substance among academics, students and medical professionals in the hope of reducing stress, improving concentration and intellectual performance (Heal et al., 2013). The use of Benzedrine was also seen in the military during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. According to Sulzer, Sonders, Poulsen & Galli, 2005, millions of Benzedrine tablets and pills were supplied to American troops as well as German, Japanese, and British military and support personnel (410). After many studies and clinical trials, amphetamines went from being readily available and used for the treatment of many different disorders to being a highly controlled substance.

In sports, the difference between a gold medal and no medal is usually marginal. For this reason many athletes will do whatever it takes, including taking a substance or drug, in order to win. Studies done on amphetamines suggest that this substance can have ergogenic effects in some sports which have led to the illegal use of amphetamines among athletes. According to Veliz, Boyd & McCabe, 2013, several studies show that some of the sports with the greatest use of amphetamines are high contact sports including ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. This is due to the fact that amphetamines increase the tolerance of strenuous exercise, blunt pain perception and decrease the ability to sense the body’s limitations while at the same time increasing aggression (Knopp, Wang, & Bach, 1997). Studies have also shown an improvement in running, swimming and weight throwing in athletes using amphetamine (Laties & Weiss, 1989). The results of a German experiment done on a female athlete running to exhaustion on a treadmill show that an intramuscular injection of methamphetamine promoted endurance on the difficult task (Laties & Weiss, 1989). This was largely because amphetamine enhances physical performance by increasing heat dissipation and therefore delaying the threshold at which exhaustion occurs (Morozova, Yoo, Behrouzvaziri, Zaretskaia, Rusyniak, Zaretsky, & Molkov, 2016).

As well as the sports mentioned above, other sports that have been shown to have high use of amphetamines are baseball, cycling and football. According to Avois, Robinson, Saudan, Baume, Mangin, & Saugy, 2006, amphetamines enhance sports performance by having a mental stimulant effect on the athlete as well as effects on physical power. They may also improve reaction time when experiencing fatigue as well as increase endurance, muscular strength, acceleration and other exercise-related benefits. However, they can also cause an ergogenic effect in sports; therefore, another population that has been susceptible to amphetamine abuse is athletes. Studies suggest that the amount of amphetamine needed for athletes to obtain ergogenic effects varies and that too much of the substance can result in side effects that can be ergolytic as well as fatal. Some of the common side effects of amphetamine are headaches, insomnia and anxiety (Avois, et al., 2006). These side effects may potentially impair performance in any sport and therefore make amphetamine an ergolytic substance if used in high dosages.

Due to the erroneous beliefs that are becoming popular of amphetamines increasing focus and alertness; this drug has become highly abused by both high school and collegiate students, but predominantly the latter over the years. These stimulants, commonly called ‘smart pills’, are commonly abused by students for enhancing school or athletic performance. However, research suggests otherwise, contrary to students beliefs. In one study, which reviewed 17 cases, stimulants produced little improvement in the academic performance of children with ADHD, but did improve their ability to focus. The same study found that Amphetamines did not improve and may even impair, short-term acquisition of information. Essentially, deeming stimulants most useful at correcting deficits rather than enhancing performance. Because of these misbeliefs, students are overlooking the adverse side effects accompanied with amphetamine used. Studies have shown that there are high risks associated with the misuse of stimulants; such risks include myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, psychosis, and even death. (Lakhan, Shaheen E.; Kirchgessner, Annette, 2012). In another study, amphetamine led to psychotic symptoms in a 12 year old adolescent with ADHD. While on the medication, she began experiencing delusions, anorexia, hallucinations, and insomnia. The study suggested that the symptoms were a result of amphetamine used because the symptoms disappeared following the cessation of the medication. The symptoms of psychosis are believed to be a cause of extracellular dopamine in response to amphetamine use.

Studies done on the non-medical use of Adderall, one of today’s most commonly used amphetamine, show that the sports found to have the greatest use of the substance are male-dominated sports at the high school level (Veliz et al., 2013). This is because adolescents believe that being good at a sport will help them gain social status and help them maintain a good relationship with their fathers and coaches. In a study by Veliz, Boyd & McCabe, 2013, done on college students, found that Adderall was mostly taken after practice or competition in order to maintain a good academic standing and be able to keep competing. This is due to the belief by students that the use of stimulants enhances school performance by improving attention and/or concentration as well as giving them a “jolt” of energy (Lakhan & Kirchgessner, 2012). Adderall is prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a neurobehavioral condition marked by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that was first included in the D.S.M. in 1987 and predominantly seen in children. The condition has been increasingly diagnosed over recent decades. In fact, throughout the 1990s, roughly 3 to 5 percent of American children were believed to have ADHD according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also states that by 2013, 3.5 million children were on stimulants.

Although amphetamines are extremely useful in the treatment of ADHD it is no surprise that with its potential ergogenic effects as well as potential dangers and highly addictive qualities that these substances are very regulated by the FDA, the DEA and sports governing bodies such as the NFL, MLB, NCAA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). When it comes to sports governing bodies, amphetamines are regulated differently depending on the agency, some agencies being stricter than others. Because some players actually need amphetamines to treat ADHD, various leagues allow players to obtain a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). “A TUE gives athletes with medical diagnoses an exemption to use a drug normally prohibited…to treat a legitimately diagnosed medical condition” (Lakhan & Kirchgessner, 2012).

As previously mentioned, amphetamines can have ergogenic effects on some sports but can also be very dangerous. However, with an accurate diagnosis, would prevent athletes from abusing the TUE and seemingly cheat within the rules. Some sports governing bodies are stricter than others, by completely prohibiting the use of amphetamines in athletes. “…athletes who are also participating in events governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and/or WADA are not allowed to use stimulant medications, even with a TUE. These organizations require that the athlete with ADHD on stimulant medications stop taking these medications or risk disqualification” (Lakhan & Kirchgessner, 2012).

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