Amphetamines: Physiological effects

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 5:05 am


Increased pulse rate and increased blood pressure are normal with amphetamine use. But even short-term use can cause adverse physical effects, including intoxication, irregular heartbeats (tachycardia), and excessive body warmth, a dangerous and sometimes deadly condition known as hyperthermia.

Prolonged abuse of amphetamine can lead to tolerance, making it necessary to take higher doses of the drug to get the effect or high originally experienced. Taking greater quantities of the drug increases the chance of an overdose. An overdose can increase blood sugar, cause an irregular heartbeat, and cause circulatory collapse. In other words, an overdose can kill. Fatal overdose reactions are usually preceded by convulsions, then coma. Death may occur due to burst blood vessels in the brain, heart attacks, or very high fever.

Chronic use can lead to dangerous changes within the body which cause cravings for the drug, agitation, decreased energy, increased appetite, insomnia, and a craving for sleep. Once the drug taking is temporarily stopped, abusers have been known to drop into deep sleeps that last up to 48 hours. Drivers of cars and trucks coming down from an amphetamine high have been known to fall asleep behind the wheel and cause deadly crashes.

Harmful side effects

Side effects include delayed and impaired judgment, sleep onset, reduced appetite, weight loss, tics, stomachache, headache, andjitteriness. Convulsions and coma may occur. Individuals who ingest amphetamine by dissolving the tablets in water and injecting the mixture risk complications due to the insoluble fillers used in the tablets. When injected, those materials block small blood vessels and can cause serious damage to the lungs and retina of the eye.

Chronic amphetamine users can demonstrate compulsive behavior and talk excessively and disjointedly. Affected individuals can become exhausted and lose insight into their actions, often insulting or otherwise alienating friends and family without obvious cause. High-dose amphetamine consumption causes abusers to become paranoid, or unrealistically suspicious of everyone, and experience hallucinations. Most high-dose amphetamine abusers become psychotic, or mentally deranged, within a week after continuous use. They experience delusions of being persecuted and auditory and visual hallucinations. Chronic amphetamine abuse is also associated with violence, criminal assault, homicides, suicides, and traffic accidents.

Infants born to mothers dependent on amphetamines have an increased risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. The infants may experience symptoms of drug withdrawal. Mothers taking the drug should refrain from nursing, since amphetamine is excreted in human milk. A number of studies using rodents as test animals indicate that women should not take amphetamines when pregnant.

Long-term health effects

Since amphetamines increase blood pressure, the chances for a stroke increases in users. Abusers of amphetamine may also be prone to degenerative disorders of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease. Research published in the March 2001 issue of American Journal of Psychiatry indicates that MAP abuse leads to long-lasting changes in the human brain that are linked to impaired coordination and memory.

Medical studies indicate that five to 15% of the amphetamine users who become psychotic fail to recover completely even after physical withdrawal symptoms pass. Psychiatrists in Japan did a study demonstrating that amphetamine psychosis can persist for several years.


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