Last published: July 16, 2021
What are amphetamines?
Amphetamines are psychostimulant drugs, which means they speed up the messages travelling between the brain and the body.1, 2
Some types of amphetamines are prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (where a person has an uncontrollable urge to sleep). Amphetamines have also been used to treat Parkinson’s disease.3, 4 Other types of amphetamines, such as speed, are produced and sold illegally. Amphetamines have been also been taken as performance enhancement drugs. The most potent form is crystal methamphetamine (ice).4 5
What do they look like?
The appearance of amphetamines varies from a powder and tablet form, to crystals and capsules. They may be packaged in ‘foils’ (aluminium foil), plastic bags or small balloons when sold illegally.6
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.7
Illegally produced amphetamines can be a mix of drugs, binding agents, caffeine and sugar. New psychoactive substances may also be added.6
Speed, up, uppers, louee, goey, whiz, rack.6
How are amphetamines used?
Amphetamines are generally swallowed, injected or smoked. They are also snorted.6
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
- large pupils and dry mouth
- fast heartbeat and breathing
- teeth grinding
- reduced appetite
- increased sex drive.6-8
Research has found an association between amphetamine use and increased violent behaviour.9
Snorting amphetamines can damage the nasal passage and cause nose bleeds.
If injecting drugs, there is an increased risk of:
- vein damage and blood clots.10, 11
If sharing needles, there is an increased risk of:
- hepatitis B.
- hepatitis C.
- HIV and AIDS.12
If you take a large amount or have a strong batch, you could overdose.
Call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000) if you or someone else has any of the following symptoms (ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police):
- racing heartbeat
- passing out or breathing difficulties
- chills or fever
- no urine output
- arching of the back/convulsions
- stroke, heart attack and death.6, 7
In the two to four days after amphetamine use, you may be experience:
- restless sleep and exhaustion
- paranoia, hallucinations and confusion
- twitching and muscle aches
- fluctuating temperatures
- irritability, mood swings, anxiety and depression.
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: increases the risk of irregular heartbeat and seizures.
Amphetamines + alcohol: increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Ampetamines + opioids: increases the risk of irregular heartbeat and seizures.
Use of than one drug or type of drug consumed at the same time is called polydrug use.
More on Polydrug use
‘Polydrug use’ is a term for the use of more than one drug or type of drug at the same time or one after another. Polydrug use can involve both illicit drugs and legal substances, such as alcohol and medications.
Regular use of amphetamines may eventually cause:
- reduced appetite and extreme weight loss
- restless sleep
- dry mouth
- dental problems
- regular colds and flu
- anxiety and paranoia
- increased risk of stroke
- tolerance and dependence on amphetamines
- financial, work and social problems.2, 6-8
Amphetamine use and mental health
Research demonstrates a relationship between people who use amphetamines and increased mental health issues.9
High doses and frequent heavy use can also create a ‘amphetamine-induced psychosis’, characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and out of character aggressive or violent behaviour.9
These symptoms usually disappear after the person stops using amphetamines.41,2
Giving up amphetamines after 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
- restless sleep, vivid dreams and nightmares
- anxiety, depression and paranoia.4, 6
If your use of amphetamines is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you can find help and support.
Call 1300 85 85 84 to speak to a real person and get answers to your questions as well as advice on practical ‘next steps’.
You can also search our list of Support Services for services in your local area:
- Marshman JA, Brands B, Sproule B, Jacobs MR. Drugs & drug abuse: a reference text. 3rd ed. Marshman JA, Brands B, Sproule B, Jacobs MR, Kevin O'B F, Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, editors. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation; 1998.
- Darke S, Lappin J, Farrell M. The Clinician's Guide to Illicit Drugs and Health Great Britain: Silverback Publishing; 2019.
- Castells X, Blanco-Silvente L, Cunill R. Amphetamines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;8:CD007813-CD.
- Ruiz P, Strain EC. Substance Abuse Handbook. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health; 2014.
- Preedy VR. Neuropathology of drug addictions and substance misuse: Volume 2, Stimulants, club and dissociative drugs, hallucinogens, steroids, inhalants, and international aspects. Preedy VR, editor. Amsterdam: Academic Press; 2016.
- Campbell A. The Australian illicit drug guide: every person's guide to illicit drugs - their use, effects and history, treatment options and legal penalties. Melbourne: Black Inc; 2001.
- Marshman JA, Brands B, Sproule B, Jacobs MR. Drugs & drug abuse : a reference text. 3rd ed. ed. Marshman JA, Brands B, Sproule B, Jacobs MRartrbMRJ, Kevin O'B F, Addiction Research Foundation of O, editors. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation = Fondation de la recherche sur la toxicomanie; 1998.
- Upfal J. Australian drug guide: the plain language guide to drugs and medicines of all kinds. 8th ed. Carlton, Vic, Australia: Black Inc., an imprint of Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd; 2016.
- McKetin R, Leung J, Stockings E, Huo Y, Foulds J, Lappin JM, et al. Mental health outcomes associated with the use of amphetamines: A systematic review and meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine. 2019;16:81-97.
- Colledge S, Larney S, Bruno R, Gibbs D, Degenhardt L, Yuen WS, et al. Profile and correlates of injecting-related injuries and diseases among people who inject drugs in Australia. Drug and alcohol dependence. 2020;216:108267-.
- Hahné SJM, White JM, Crowcroft NS, Brett MM, George RC, Beeching NJ, et al. Tetanus in injecting drug users, United Kingdom. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12(4):709-10.
- Degenhardt L, Charlson F, Stanaway J, Larney S, Alexander LT, Hickman M, et al. Estimating the burden of disease attributable to injecting drug use as a risk factor for HIV, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet Infect Dis. 2016;16(12):1385-98.
- World Health Organisation. Lexicon of Alcohol and Drug Terms. World Health Organisation; 1994.