Using Speed? Slow down. This page will help you to recognise the signs, symptoms and behaviours associated with Amphetamine use and abuse, understand its effects, and find help.
What are Amphetamines?
Amphetamines are synthetic stimulants which often come in the form of a light pink or off-white powder sold in wraps or in a tablet form. Amphetamines are a psychostimulant, which means they affect the user’s central nervous system creating such effects as ‘speeding up’ the body, experiencing a wide awake feeling, increasing the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, because of these effects, the common street name for Amphetamines is ‘Speed’.
Amphetamines can be snorted, ingested by mouth, smoked, injected, mixed with alcohol or taken with other drugs such as ecstasy.
Speed typically has a poor level of purity, with most powders only containing between 5-10% Amphetamine, however the ‘base’ form of speed is 50-65% pure. Another form of Speed is methylamphetamine or methamphetamine, commonly known as ‘Crystal Meth’, as it comes in a crystalline form. Crystal Meth is a particularly addictive and powerful brand of Speed because it can be smoked to achieve rapidly high blood levels.
Speed is a Class B drug, which carries the penalty of 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine for possession. Supplying speed has a penalty of 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
There are forms of legal Amphetamine such as dexamphetamine and methylphenidate which are prescription only to treat disorders such as narcolepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Methamphetamine or ‘Crystal Meth’ is a Class A drug, which carries heavier penalties than Speed. For possession of Crystal Meth, the penalty is 7 years in prison and an unlimited fine. For supplying, the penalty can be a life sentence in prison and an unlimited fine. Methamphetamine has no medical use in the UK, which means there is no legitimate reason for possession or supply.
Street names for “Speed”: Amph, Base, Bennies, Billy, Black beauties, Co-pilots, Crank, Dexies, Eye openers, Goey, Glass, Ice, Lid poppers, Meth, Paste, Shabu, Speed, Sulph, Uppers, Whites, Whizz.
What are the effects of Amphetamine use?
Amphetamines have not only a powerful physical effect on the body, but also strong mental effects. The effects of Amphetamine use through ingesting by mouth can take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour to kick in. By injecting or smoking the user will experience the effects within just a few minutes. Someone who is under the influence of Amphetamines will display such signs as –
- Bursts of energy
- Feeling wide awake
- Dry mouth
- Dilated pupils
- Jaw clenching
- Loss of appetite
- Increasing of blood pressure
- Increased breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Mood swings
- Panic Attacks
The effects of Speed can last anywhere between 4-12 hours depending on how the drug has been administered, which make the effects between 8-24 times the duration of cocaine.
The after effects can last for days, with a user experiencing negative withdrawal symptoms that increase the risk of craving another ‘hit’ of Speed.
What are the health risks of Amphetamine use or Amphetamine addiction?
Speed can have serious health implications, especially as Amphetamine use can quickly lead to a long term and heavy addiction. Harmful effects associated with Amphetamine use are –
- Lowering your immune system making you more susceptible to illness
- Raising your blood pressure and increases heart rate – amphetamine abuse has been linked to heart attacks
- Collapsed veins from injecting
- Contracting HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis B and C
- Developing eating disorders
- Dramatic weight loss
- Heavy use can increase the chance of Parkinson’s disease
- High risk of overdose with stronger amounts such as base or Crystal Meth
- Mixing speed and alcohol can be fatal
The danger of eating disorders is a serious health risk to Amphetamine users as the drug suppresses appetite. Historically Amphetamines were used in WW2 to suppress a soldier’s appetite in wartime, which led to the drug becoming widely available in the 1950s and 1960s as slimming tablets. The lack of appetite also causes dangerous and dramatic weight loss and often leads to a high risk of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, especially among women users.
There are also risks of being infected with HIV/AIDS through shared needles if injecting Speed, or if snorting Speed with others, the risk of contracting Hepatitis B and C.
Another health risk to Amphetamine users is when mixing Speed and alcohol. This is extremely dangerous combination as the alcohol in your system lowers the body’s brain function and heart rate, Speed will then increase your blood pressure and heart rate when mixed with alcohol and has been linked with many deaths among Amphetamine users.
Why are Amphetamines so addictive?
Amphetamines are a highly addictive substance which stimulates both the body and the brain. Amphetamine use causes a temporary increase of dopamine, the ‘reward pathways’ in the brain, similar to the way cocaine works.
Short term use of Speed can easily slip unnoticed into long term systematic abuse because of the way it stimulates these dopamine synapses in the brain. The user will have to rapidly increase doses to keep the same high as heavy users quickly develop a dependency as their body adapts to the regular presence of the drug.
The ‘high’ is the main reason Amphetamines are so addictive. Once the effects of the drug wear off, there is a major change from feeling wide awake, energetic and confident to the ‘lows’ of the drug, feeling lethargic, irritable and paranoid. Psychological dependence on Speed can happen rapidly from the first use therefore most users will crave another hit to continue experiencing the ‘highs’.
How do you tackle Amphetamine addiction?
To tackle an Amphetamine addiction is to first recognise you have a problem. Making a conscious effort to stop or cut down is the biggest step.
To stop or cut down on Amphetamines can be a difficult process once a physical and psychological dependence has been made. Heavy users can experience withdrawal symptoms once use of the drug is decreased or stopped abruptly. Such as –
- Cravings for the drug
- Increased appetite
- Feeling emotionally flat
- Heart palpitations
Research shows that after heavy Amphetamine abuse, there is less dopamine in the brain because the receptors have been depleted. This means that heavy users of Amphetamines can experience withdrawal symptoms for months after cutting down or stopping thus increasing chances of relapse. However, there is help to treat addiction.
Across the UK, there are services available that offer free, confidential advice e.g. Talk to Frank, who will be able to provide confidential advice and make a referral to a professional organisation that can provide treatment and recovery.
There are currently no medications to help treat a person addicted to Amphetamines overcome their cravings for the drugs and avoid relapse. However, studies are being done to find an effective medical treatment for Amphetamine addiction.
Currently, Amphetamine addiction is treated through a variety of proven successful methods that are primarily intended to keep the person from relapsing into drug use, these methods include –
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is a type of therapy that helps people change negative thought patterns associated with drug use
- Contingency management interventions, which provides rewards for staying clean
- Individual counselling and education about drug abuse
- Involvement in positive activities that do not include drugs, such as exercise and meditation
- Promoting a healthy diet to users and giving information on nutritional aids that can ease withdrawal symptoms
Another method of tackling Amphetamine addiction is through self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. These groups operate through weekly meetings based on the ’12 Step Program’ where like minded people and fellow sufferers of Amphetamine abuse can share their experiences and give inspiration to other users. Groups such as Narcotics Anonymous not only help people come off Amphetamine use, but also to stay off using.
What support is there for families and friends of Amphetamine users?
”Drug use affects the whole family, not just the user. When there’s a drug user in the family, whether it is a child or parent, everyone suffers and it can be so crippling that family members suffer as much as the user.
For those living close to a dependent drug user, trying to find help can be frustrating. It often seems that support is geared towards the user, when families struggle through problems too.
Fortunately there are support groups for family members too.
There are a number of groups whose sole focus is the support of family members and friends who have been affected by substance abuse and help address these issues.
One organisation that can help specifically with families and friends of drug users is Families Anonymous, who provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drug use.”
The Inexcess Support Directory lists more than 1600 service providers throughout the UK and is divided by region to help support and advise people how to find help in their own area. Click here to visit the Support Directory.