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Drug Information


Understanding Amphetamines

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which means they speed up the messages travelling 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). Other types of amphetamines such as speed are produced and sold illegally.

Amphetamine abuse in Australia

The appearance of amphetamines varies. These drugs may be in the form of a powder, tablets and capsules. 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 have traces of grey or pink. It has a strong smell and bitter taste. Amphetamine capsules and tablets vary considerably in colour.


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



MDMA is an illegal drug that acts as both a stimulant and psychedelic, producing an energizing effect, as well as distortions in time and perception and enhanced enjoyment from tactile experiences.


Typically, MDMA (an acronym for its chemical name 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is taken orally, usually in a tablet or capsule, and its effects last approximately 3 to 6 hours. The average reported dose is one to two tablets, with each tablet typically containing between 60 and 120 milligrams of MDMA. It is not uncommon for users to take a second dose of the drug as the effects of the first dose begin to fade.


MDMA can affect the brain by altering the activity of chemical messengers, or neuro-transmitters, which enable nerve cells in the brain to communicate with one another.


Research in animals has shown that MDMA in moderate to high doses can be toxic to nerve cells that contain serotonin and can cause long-lasting damage to them.


Furthermore, MDMA raises body temperature. On rare but largely unpredictable occasions, this has led to severe medical consequences, including death. Also, MDMA causes the release of another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, which is likely the cause of the increase in heart rate and blood pressure that often accompanies MDMA use.




Ecstasy (‘eckie’, ‘e’ or ‘Xtc’) is the street term for a range of drugs that are similar in structure to MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), a hallucinogenic amphetamine.


Ecstasy has a similar effect to other amphetamines and is usually taken orally in tablet form. Tablets sold as ‘ecstasy’ in Victoria often contain a mixture of other drugs, such as methylone, MDVP or 2C-I. 


Synthetic Amphetamines


In recent years, a wide range of synthetic products, claiming to have similar effects to amphetamines, have also been available in Australia. The active ingredient in these products can potentially be a number of chemicals, such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), but it is difficult to know what exactly they contain, and as a result, they can have more unpredictable effects and are potentially more harmful than amphetamines.



How Amphetamines Work


When we are stressed or under threat, the central nervous system prepares us for physical action by creating particular physiological changes. Amphetamines prompt the brain to initiate this ‘fight or flight’ response.These changes include:


  • the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones

  • increased heart rate and blood pressure

  • redirected blood flow into the muscles and away from the gut.


In small doses, amphetamines can banish tiredness and make the user feel alert and refreshed. However, the burst of energy comes at a price. A ‘speed crash’ always follows the high and may leave the person feeling nauseous, irritable, depressed and extremely exhausted.



Effects of Amphetamines


The effects of amphetamines, and how long the effects last, depend on the strength of the dose, the blend of chemicals, and the physical make-up and state of mind of the person taking the drug. Some of the immediate effects of amphetamines include:


  • a burst of energy, making the user talkative, restless and excited

  • accelerated heart rate and breathing

  • high-blood pressure

  • dry mouth and jaw clenching

  • sweating

  • dilated pupils

  • loss of appetite.


Even if the effects of the amphetamines have worn off, there may still be amphetamines in your system. As a rough guide, methamphetamines can be detected in the blood for around four to eight hours after use, and in the urine for around two to five days after use.

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