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Last updated : August 23, 2017

What are amphetamines?

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which means they speed up the messages travelling between the brain and the body.1

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). Other types of amphetamines such as speed are produced and sold illegally. The more potent form, crystal methamphetamine (ice), is covered on a different page.1

What do they look like?

The appearance of amphetamines varies. These drugs may be in the form of a powder, tablets, crystals and capsules. They may be packaged in ‘foils’ (aluminium foil), plastic bags or small balloons when sold illegally.2

Amphetamine powder can range in colour from white through to brown, sometimes it may have traces of grey or pink. It has a strong smell and bitter taste. Amphetamine capsules and tablets vary considerably in size and colour.1

Illegally produced amphetamines can be a mix of drugs, binding agents, caffeine and sugar. New psychoactive substances may also be added.1

Slang names

Speed, fast, up, uppers, louee, goey, whiz.2

How are they used?

Amphetamines are generally swallowed, injected or smoked. They are also snorted.2

Effects of amphetamines

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Amphetamines affect everyone differently, based on:

  • Size, weight and health
  • Whether the person is used to taking it
  • Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • The amount taken
  • The strength of the drug (varies from batch to batch with illegally produced drugs)

You might feel the effects of amphetamines immediately (if injected or smoked) or within 30 minutes (if snorted or swallowed).

You might experience:

  • Happiness and confidence
  • Talking more and feeling energetic
  • Repeating simple things like itching and scratching
  • Large pupils and dry mouth
  • Fast heart beat and breathing
  • Teeth grinding
  • Reduced appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased sex drive1,2

Snorting amphetamines can damage the nasal passage and cause nose bleeds.

Injecting amphetamines and sharing needles can increase the risk of:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Tetanus

Overdose

If you take a large amount or have a strong batch, you could overdose. If you have any of the following symptoms, call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000). Ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police.

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Fits
  • Passing out
  • Stroke, heart attack and death1,2

Coming down

In the 2 to 4 days after amphetamine use, you may be experience:

  • Restless sleep and exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and blurred vision
  • Paranoia, hallucinations and confusion
  • Irritability, mood swings and depression3

Using a depressant drug such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or cannabis to help with the come down effects may result in a cycle of dependence on both types of drugs.

Long term effects

Regular use of amphetamines may eventually cause:

  • Reduced appetite and extreme weight loss
  • Restless sleep
  • Dry mouth and dental problems
  • Regular colds and flu
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Depression
  • Heart and kidney problems
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Needing to use more to get the same effect
  • Dependence on amphetamines
  • Financial, work and social problems1,2,3

Amphetamine psychosis

High doses and frequent heavy use can also create an ‘amphetamine psychosis’, characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and out of character aggressive or violent behaviour. These symptoms usually disappear a few days after the person stops using amphetamines.1,2

Mixing amphetamines with other drugs

The effects of taking amphetamines with other drugs − including over-the-counter or prescribed medications − can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could cause:

Amphetamines + some antidepressants: elevated blood pressure, which can lead to irregular heartbeat, heart failure and stroke.4

Amphetamines + alcohol, cannabis or benzodiazepines: the body is placed under a high degree of stress as it attempts to deal with the conflicting effects of both types of drugs, which can lead to an overdose.5

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. Symptoms include:

  • Cravings for amphetamines
  • Increased appetite
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Aches and pains
  • Exhaustion
  • Restless sleep and nightmares
  • Anxiety, depression and paranoia2

Getting help

If your use of amphetamines is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you can find help and support.

Amphetamines and the law

Use of amphetamines is restricted. They can only be prescribed by a medical practitioner for medical reasons.

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.

Amphetamine statistics

National

  • 6.3% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used meth/amphetamines one or more times in their life.6
  • 1.4% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used meth/amphetamines in the previous 12 months. Of these people, 57.3% report crystal or ice as main form of the drug used.6

Young people

  • Young Australians (aged 14–24) first try meth/amphetamines at 18.6 years on average.6
  • 2.4% of 12-17 year olds have tried amphetamines.7
References
  1. Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
  2. Campbell, A. (2000). The Australian illicit drug guide. Melbourne: Black Inc.
  3. Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. (2013). Amphetamine/’Speed’.
  4. Upfal, J. (2006). The Australian drug guide (7th ed.). Melbourne: Black Inc.
  5. Harm Reduction Coalition. (n.d.). Mixing Drugs.
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2017). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2016. Canberra: AIHW.
  7. White, V., & Williams, T. (2016). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2014. Melbourne: The Cancer Council, Victoria.

Effects

confidence, death, dilated pupils, dry mouth, excessive sweating, fast breathing, fast heart rate, feeling energetic, fits, heart attack, increased sex drive, itching, racing heartbeat, reduced appetite, stroke, talking more, teeth grinding.

AKA

fast, ice, louee, speed, up, uppers, whiz.