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This pamphlet is part of the “How Drugs Affect You� series. It aims to provide the facts about amphetamines for anyone interested in understanding more about these drugs. This pamphlet focuses on the misuse and illegal use of amphetamines. It has been written for the general public, including employees, employers, health professionals and their clients.

Other titles in this series include alcohol, analgesics, benzodiazepines, caffeine, cannabis, cocaine, drugs and their effects, ecstasy, GHB, hallucinogens, heroin, ice, inhalants, ketamine and tobacco.


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. Some amphetamines are produced in backyard laboratories and are often mixed with other substances that can have unpleasant or harmful effects.

Other names Common names for amphetamines are speed, fast, up, uppers, louee, goey and whiz. Crystal methamphetamine is also known as ice, shabu, crystal meth, glass or shard.

What they 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 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.

Amphetamines in Australia According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey1, in 2013:

»» 7.0 per cent of Australians aged over 14 years had used amphetamines at some stage in their life

»» 2.1 per cent had used them in the previous 12 months »» the average age at which young Australians (aged 14-24) first tried amphetamines was 18.6 years.

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 and whether other drugs are taken around the same time. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken. This can be very hard to judge as the quality and strength of illicit drugs can vary greatly from one batch to another.

Immediate effects 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 Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking amphetamines include: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2014 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Key Findings, Canberra: AIHW


Body » feel more energetic » increased sweating » increased body temperature » faster reaction times » feelings of increased strength » itching, picking and scratching

Psychological effects » 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 » paranoia » hallucinations » irritability, hostility and aggression

Stomach » reduced appetite » stomach cramps » stomach irritation (if swallowed)

Lungs » increased breathing rate » shortness of breath (from smoking it)

Heart » increased heart rate and blood pressure » irregular heart beat, palpitations » chest pain

Mouth dry mouth

Eyes enlarged (dilated) pupils

Brain » abrupt shifts in » headaches thought and speech » dizziness that can make » feeling more awake and people difficult alert, reduced need for to understand sleep and difficulty sleeping

Low to moderate doses

Higher doses A high dose of amphetamines can cause a person to overdose. 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 »» tremors »» irregular breathing »» loss of coordination »» rapid pounding heart

»» violent or aggressive behaviour

»» hallucinations »» seizures, stroke, coma

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. Coming down 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 »» tension

»» radical mood swings »» depression »» paranoia »» lethargy »» total exhaustion.

Long-term effects 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 can increase

the risk of heart-related complications such as heart attack »» increased strain on the kidneys which can result in kidney failure »» increased risk of stroke »» depression, anxiety and tension

»» paranoia »» violence »» panic and confusion »» muscle rigidity »» breathlessness »» psychological problems such as poor memory and concentration.

Tolerance and dependence People who use amphetamines regularly can develop 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. Withdrawal Giving up amphetamines after using them for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without them. Withdrawal symptoms should settle down after a week and will mostly disappear after a month. Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. Some of the withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced include:

»» cravings for

amphetamines »» irritability »» depression, anxiety and panic »» paranoia »» extreme fatigue and exhaustion

»» general aches and pains »» hunger and increased appetite

»» disturbed and restless

sleep, often interrupted by nightmares.

Amphetamines and driving It is dangerous to drive after using amphetamines. The effects of amphetamines, such as increased confidence and a sense of invincibility, can affect driving ability. People with reduced inhibitions may take more risks when driving which increases the chance of an accident. The symptoms of coming down and withdrawal can also affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

Amphetamines and the workplace Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employees have a responsibility to make sure they look after their own and their co-workers’ safety. The effects of amphetamines such as nervousness, anxiety and agitation can affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively. The symptoms of coming down and withdrawal can also affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding Many drugs can cross the placenta and affect an unborn child. In general, using drugs when pregnant can increase the chances of going into labour early. This can mean that babies are born below the normal birth weight. If a mother uses amphetamines while breastfeeding, the drug may be present in her breast milk. This may have an effect on the health of the baby. Check with your doctor or other health professional if you are using or planning to use amphetamines or any other drugs during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Amphetamines and 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.

Amphetamines and social problems All areas of a person’s life can be affected by drug use.

»» Disagreements and frustration over drug use can cause family arguments and affect personal relationships.

»» Legal and health problems can also add to the strain on personal, financial and work relationships.

Amphetamines and the law 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 or driving under the influence of amphetamines (unless they are prescribed by a doctor). These laws also apply to making or selling amphetamines. 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. For more information contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.

Treatment options In Australia, there are many different treatment options 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. Treatment is more effective if adapted to suit each person’s situation. Some of the different options include individual counselling, group therapy, medication (pharmacotherapy), residential therapy and supervised/home withdrawal.

Preventing and reducing harms 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.

Amphetamines, hepatitis and HIV 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. Their telephone numbers are listed on the back of this pamphlet.

There is no safe level of drug 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.

What to do if you are concerned about someone’s drug use If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is confidential help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory. The telephone numbers are listed on the back of this pamphlet.

What to do in a crisis 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.

»» Dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance.

Ambulance officers are not obliged to involve the police.

»» Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives.

Find out if anyone at the scene knows cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). »» Ensure that the person has adequate air by keeping crowds back and opening windows. Loosen tight clothing. »» If the person is unconscious, don’t leave them on their back—they could choke. Turn them on their side and into the recovery position. Gently tilt their head back so their tongue does not block the airway. »» If breathing has stopped, apply CPR. »» Provide the ambulance officers with as much information as you can—such as how much amphetamine was taken, how long ago and any pre-existing medical conditions. For further tips on how to reduce the risks of using amphetamines, call the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory. The telephone numbers are listed on the back of this pamphlet.


For information, counselling or other assistance, contact the alcohol and other drug service in your state or territory. AUSTRALIAN DRUG FOUNDATION

ACT (02) 6207 9977

Tas. 1800 811 994

NSW (02) 9361 8000 (Sydney) 1800 422 599 (NSW)

Vic. 1300 85 85 84 (information)

NT 1800 131 350

QLD 1800 177 833 SA

1300 131 340

1800 888 236 (counselling)

WA (08) 9442 5000 (Perth) 1800 198 024 (WA)

Produced by the Australian Drug Foundation Š 2014. Celebrating more than 50 years of service to the community, the Australian Drug Foundation is Australia’s leading body committed to preventing alcohol and other drug problems in communities around the nation. For further copies of this pamphlet: Post: PO Box 818, North Melbourne, Vic 3051 Street: Level 12, 607 Bourke Street, Melbourne Vic Email: Web:


Amphetamines: How Drugs Affect You  

A comprehensive and easy to read summary of how amphetamines affects your body and life.

Amphetamines: How Drugs Affect You  

A comprehensive and easy to read summary of how amphetamines affects your body and life.