Amphetamines is the name given a group of synthetic stimulants which are chemically similar to adrenaline, the hormone used for 'fight or flight' emergencies.

There are three main types. "Speed" most commonly refers to amphetamine sulphate (also known by its trade name, Benzedrine).

But there is also dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine or "Dexy's Midnight Runners"), and the most potent, methamphetamine (Methedrine or "Meth").


Of all street drugs, speed is most variable in appearance, mainly because the pure product is so rare.

Most street amphetamine comes in the form of crystal powder or paste and is usually snorted or dabbed on the gums. It is usually a distinct colour (brown, orange, reddish) thanks to impurities and 'backroom' method of synthesis.

Larger (purer) crystals are sometimes available but these are usually primarily for cooking up and injecting.

And then there's 'base', an off white / brown / pink gritty paste, usually much purer than powder (the texture makes it too difficult to mix it with anything else).

Illegally manufactured speed pills do exist but are usually sold as (fake) Ecstasy rather than as speed.


Also known as 'crystal meth' or 'glass', ice is a smokeable freebase form of methamphetamine very common in America (it started in Hawaii). Like crack-cocaine, it comes in larger crystals or rocks. When smoked its effects are comparable to crack in intensity but much longer lasting.

It is highly addictive.


Speed is notoriously impure. The average one gram wrap is 10% amphetamine, 90% adulterant - anything from vitamin C powder, glucose powder, caffeine, flour, baby milk. The usual stuff.


The amphetamine effect is like an adrenaline rush, only longer and with a noticeable crash.

Swallowed, an amphetamine pill will come on within 15 to 30 minutes. Snorted, the effects are much quicker (5 to 10 minutes). Injection is almost instantaneous and can be overwhelming.


The sensations start as a tickling upwards from the stomach. There is often a sense of rushing forwards. The mind feels clear and focussed, more powerful, but in a more calculated way than the arrogant me-me-me effect of cocaine.

Physically, the teeth start grinding. The jaws clench. Long term addicts can actually crush their teeth to powder through incessant gnawing. Appetite is also strongly suppressed and you go to the toilet less. Blood pressure, heart rate all rise.

Mentally, you start to feel confident and elated, along with an increased desire to communicate. As the whole Central Nervous System (CNS) becomes stimulated, increasing your alertness and endurance. Often users talk fast and continually. And a lot of shit.

Speed is colder, more physical, and in many ways more unforgiving than E.


Small doses of speed (one line, one pill) wear off within 3-8 hours later, leaving the you fatigued but not exhausted. Hence the strong temptation to top up and continue speeding. This staves off the comedown but increases its severity. Eventually you face a "crash" rather than a manageable come down.

It's fear of the crash which keeps some people on weekend- even week-long "speedruns".


The danger of death by overdosing on amphetamines is extremely low, with only 79 recorded OD deaths world-wide in the forty years up to 1979, almost all injecting users.

However, just as the pull of heroin is over dramatised, the pull of speed is dramatically understated. The combination of the physical rush and psychological boost is a strong draw for many users.

The danger comes from over-regular use, and over familiarity, becoming more dependent on the release of energy and more uncomfortable with the body's natural energy levels.

Paranoia and nervous tension are common after even mild recreational use. Even occasional, light users can suffer depression and lasting fatigue.

Heavy users hit severe, sometimes suicidal lows, and can slump into deep sleeps lasting well over 24 hrs.

Speed psychosis

Consistent heavy use or a single large dose can induce amphetamine psychosis, almost identical in symptoms to schizophrenia.

Vivid auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions are the real frighteners and, unlike hallucinogens, the "trip" cannot be turned around. This is a very real mental state caused by over-excitement of the brain's fright centres.

Its effects often start with curiosity, deep thought, and paranoia. Its slow build up makes it all the more dangerous, as it is harder to recognise the symptoms.

Some people get into obsessional activities, ironing or scrubbing floors though the night, or dismantling and reassembling electrical equipment.

While amphetamine psychosis is much more common amongst heavy regular users there are real dangers that any small amount of speed used by a person with schizophrenic tendencies could push them over the edge.

Addiction & tolerance

The body quickly builds tolerance to amphetamines with regular use, though this fades quickly with breaks. Users have to rapidly increase doses to maintain effects. In narcoleptics and hyperactive children, however, there is no tolerance.

Amphetamines are highly addictive, working like alcohol, nicotine, and cocaine on the dopamine "reward" pathways of the brain. Short term recreational use can slip unnoticed into long term systematic abuse. Some speed addicts have had habits lasting over twenty years.

If you are addicted, withdrawal will give exactly the reverse effects of the drug. Instead of the drug's euphoria and curbing the need to eat and sleep, withdrawal causes excessive hunger and fatigue, different from heroin withdrawal, but equally distressing.

Mixing with other drugs

The greatest danger from mixing other drugs with amphetamines is additional strain on the heart and increased blood pressure. Be careful.

Please note: there have been very few scientific studies into the effects of combining psychoactive drugs. The information presented here is anecdotal. It is based on the subjective reports of experienced users. Different people will respond differently to different drugs and drug combination. Know your body.

alcohol the lager lout's fave. Allows extended binge drinking. Increase likelihood of aggressive / irresponsible behaviour. Not good for liver and kidneys. Terrible hangover

cannabis can take the edge of the buzz

cocaine unlikely combination as the effects are so similar, danger of increased toxicity and strain on heart

ecstasy extends E experience, increased energy and euphoria, but also strain on heart and risk of over-heating. Moderation recommended.

ghb no information available - can you help?

heroin suprisingly common amongst heavy speed users as heroin provides physical grounding to speed's more psychotic tendencies

ketamine fast and slow, leading to intense Matrix-like perception of time changes - no increased health risks

LSD has its own speedy effect

mushrooms increased weirdness; energising; paranoia usually increased; comedown can be rocky

tobacco speeding smokers usually smoke more cigarettes, usual perils of tobacco apply


Amphetamines are class B prescription only drugs under the Medicines Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Therefore, doctors can prescribe them to patients legally, but any other unauthorised production, supply or possession is an offence.

In the US, amphetamines are categorized under Schedule II along with cocaine.


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