What are amphetamines?
Effects of amphetamines
Tolerance and dependence
Amphetamines in Australia
What are amphetamines?
Amphetamines belong to a group of drugs called stimulants. Amphetamines speed up the messages going between the brain and the body.
Some types of amphetamines are legally prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (where a person has an uncontrollable urge to sleep).
Some people use amphetamines illegally to become intoxicated. Amphetamines are sometimes produced in backyard laboratories and mixed with other substances that can have unpleasant or harmful effects.
Common names for amphetamines are speed, fast, up, uppers, louee, goey and whiz.
Crystal methamphetamine is also known as ice, shabu, crystal meth, or glass.
What do amphetamines look like?
Amphetamines are a family of related drugs. They can be in the form of a powder, tablets, capsules or crystals. They may be packaged in 'foils' (aluminium foil), plastic bags or small balloons when sold illegally.
Amphetamine powder can range in colour from white through to brown; sometimes it may be orange or dark purple. It has a strong smell and bitter taste.
Amphetamine capsules and tablets vary considerably in colour. They can be a mix of drugs, binding agents, caffeine and sugar.
Crystal methamphetamine, a potent form of amphetamine, generally comes in large, sheet-like crystals, or as a crystalline powder.
How and why are they used?
Amphetamines are generally swallowed, injected or smoked. They are also snorted.
People use amphetamines for different reasons. Some use the drugs to get 'high' and dance all night. Others use them to help stay awake for long periods, to improve performance in sport or at work, or to boost their self-confidence. Amphetamines can reduce tiredness and increase endurance.
Effects of amphetamines
The effects of any drug (including amphetamines) vary from person to person. How amphetamines affect a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it. The effects of amphetamines, as with any drug, also depend on the amount taken.
There is no safe level of amphetamine use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Depending on how amphetamines are taken, the effects may be felt immediately (through injecting or smoking) or within 30 minutes (if snorted or swallowed).
|Low to moderate doses
- feelings of euphoria, excitement and a sense of wellbeing
- increased confidence and motivation
- a sense of power and superiority over others
- increased talkativeness
- repetition of simple acts
- nervousness, anxiety, agitation and panic
- increased libido
- irritability, hostility and aggression
- feeling more awake and alert, reduced need for sleep and difficulty sleeping
- abrupt shifts in thought and speech that can make people difficult to understand
- enlarged (dilated) pupils
- dry mouth
- increased breathing rate
- shortness of breath (from smoking it)
- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- irregular heart beat, palpitations
- chest pain
- reduced appetite
- stomach cramps
- stomach irritation (if swallowed)
- feeling more energetic
- increased sweating
- increased body temperature
- faster reaction times
- feelings of increased strength
- itching, picking and scratching.
A high dose of amphetamines can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more amphetamines than their body can cope with. Not knowing the strength or purity of amphetamines increases the risk of overdose. Injecting runs a greater risk of overdose due to large amounts of the drug entering the blood stream and quickly travelling to the brain.
The effects of a high dose of amphetamines can intensify some of the effects listed in the diagram. People may also experience:
- blurred vision
- irregular breathing
- loss of coordination
- rapid pounding heart
- violent or aggressive behaviour
High doses and frequent heavy use can also create an “amphetamine psychosis”, characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and bizarre, aggressive or violent behaviour. These symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using amphetamines.
As the effects of amphetamines begin to wear off, a person may experience a range of effects. These effects can last for several days after use and may include:
- feeling restless, irritable and anxious
- aggression, that may lead to violence
- radical mood swings
- total exhaustion.
Some of the long-term effects of amphetamine use include:
- malnutrition and rapid weight loss due to reduced appetite
- chronic sleeping problems
- reduced immunity and increased susceptibility to infections due to not sleeping or eating properly
- cracked teeth and other dental problems from clenching the jaw, grinding the teeth, dry mouth and poor hygiene
- high blood pressure and rapid and irregular heartbeat which place stress on the heart and can increase the risk of heart-related complications such as heart attack and heart failure
- increased strain on the kidneys which can result in kidney failure
- increased risk of stroke
- depression, anxiety and tension
- panic and confusion
- muscle rigidity
- damage to the heart muscle
- psychological problems such as poor memory and concentration.
Other effects of amphetamine use
Taking amphetamines with other drugs
The effects of mixing amphetamines with other drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines, are often unpredictable.
Mixing amphetamines with other stimulant drugs (such as cocaine or ecstasy) increases the stimulant effects and places enormous pressure on the heart and body, which can lead to stroke.
Combining amphetamines with depressant drugs such as alcohol, cannabis, heroin or benzodiazepines also places the body under great stress.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Read about the effects of amphetamines on pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Read about the effects of amphetamines on driving.
Preventing and reducing harms
Sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment can greatly increase the risk of contracting blood borne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus—the virus that causes AIDS).
The alcohol and drug service in your state or territory can provide information on where to obtain clean needles and syringes.
Tolerance and dependence
There is evidence that after prolonged use, amphetamines can become highly addictive. People who use amphetamines regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to them, which means they need to take larger amounts of amphetamines to get the same effect.
Dependence on amphetamines can be psychological, physical, or both. People who are dependent on amphetamines find that using the drug becomes far more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and find it very difficult to stop using it.
People who are psychologically dependent on amphetamines may find they feel an urge to use them when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends. Physical dependence occurs when a person’s body adapts to amphetamines and gets used to functioning with the amphetamines present.
If a dependent person stops taking amphetamines, they may experience withdrawal symptoms because their body has to get used to functioning without amphetamines.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced include:
- cravings for amphetamines
- confusion and poor concentration
- decreased energy, apathy and the limited ability to experience pleasure
- depression, anxiety and panic
- extreme fatigue and exhaustion
- general aches and pains
- hunger and increased appetite
- disturbed and restless sleep, often interrupted by nightmares.
In Australia, there are many different types of treatments for drug problems. Some aim to help a person to stop using a drug, while others aim to reduce the risks and harm related to their drug use. Find out more about treatment.
What to do if you are concerned about someone’s amphetamine use
If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.
What to do in a crisis
Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.
If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using amphetamines, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. A quick response can save their life.
Visit the Better Health Channel to read St John Ambulance’s advice on drug overdose.
Amphetamine use in Australia
According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, in 2010, 7.0% of Australians aged over 14 years had used amphetamines at some stage in their life.
For more statistics about the use of amphetamines in Australia, visit our Quick statistics page.
Are they legal?
Legally produced amphetamines are classed as a restricted substance and only a doctor may prescribe them. All other amphetamines are illegal in Australia.
Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making, selling or driving under the influence of amphetamines without a prescription from an authorised person. There are also laws against forging or altering a prescription or making false representation to obtain amphetamines or a prescription for them. Laws have been introduced that prevent the sale and possession of ice pipes in some states and territories.
Penalties can include fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving. Some states and territories have programs that refer people with a drug problem to treatment and/or education programs where they can receive help rather than going through the criminal justice system.
Please note that this information does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in this way. The information is correct at the time of publication. For information specific to your situation contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.
Read more about drugs and the law.
National drug policy
Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.
Educational resources on amphetamines
Find free resources on amphetamines.
Search the ADF Shop to find resources on amphetamines.
This information has been adapted from the pamphlet How Drugs Affect You: Amphetamines, produced by the Australian Drug Foundation. For single copies of this pamphlet, contact DrugInfo. Multiple copies are available from the ADF Bookshop.
Last updated: 27 January 2013