# The Discovery and Use of Amphetamines: From WWII to Modern ADHD Treatment
The discovery of amphetamines dates back to the late 19th century when chemist Lazăr Edeleanu synthesized amphetamine in 1887. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that their stimulating properties were recognized. The pivotal moment came in 1929 when American chemist Gordon Alles rediscovered the compound and identified its potential as a central nervous… Read More »

# The Discovery and Use of Amphetamines: From WWII to Modern ADHD Treatment



The discovery of amphetamines dates back to the late 19th century when chemist Lazăr Edeleanu synthesized amphetamine in 1887. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that their stimulating properties were recognized. The pivotal moment came in 1929 when American chemist Gordon Alles rediscovered the compound and identified its potential as a central nervous system stimulant. By 1932, Benzedrine, an inhaler containing amphetamine, was marketed for nasal congestion, but its broader effects soon garnered attention.

### Amphetamines in World War II

The onset of World War II saw amphetamines gain significant prominence. Both Axis and Allied forces sought substances to enhance soldier performance and endurance. Amphetamines, known for increasing alertness, reducing fatigue, and boosting morale, became the drug of choice. The German military issued millions of tablets of Pervitin, a methamphetamine, to their troops. This substance, colloquially known as “tank chocolate” or “pilot’s salt,” was believed to contribute to the rapid and aggressive Blitzkrieg tactics by keeping soldiers awake and energetic for extended periods.

The Allied forces were not far behind in their use of stimulants. British and American troops were supplied with Benzedrine tablets. These pills were used extensively by pilots to stay awake during long bombing missions and by infantry to maintain alertness during protracted battles. Reports from the period highlight that amphetamines were credited with enhancing performance under stress, though they were not without side effects. Instances of dependence, hallucinations, and erratic behavior were noted, illustrating the darker side of the drug’s use.

The widespread use of amphetamines during World War II marked a significant chapter in the history of military pharmacology. While they undoubtedly provided short-term benefits in terms of alertness and endurance, the long-term effects and ethical implications of their use have remained subjects of considerable debate. The legacy of amphetamines in wartime underscores the complex interplay between medicine and military needs, a relationship that has continued to evolve in subsequent conflicts.

### Post-War Regulation and Current Medical Use

Amphetamines were widely used in both military and civilian contexts throughout the mid-20th century. However, the recognition of their potential for abuse and dependency led to stricter regulations over time.

In the United States, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified amphetamines as Schedule II drugs, indicating a high potential for abuse and dependence but also recognizing their legitimate medical uses. This classification significantly restricted their availability and prescribed use. Other countries implemented similar regulations around the same time, reflecting a global trend toward tighter control of amphetamines.

Despite these restrictions, amphetamines are still available today for certain medical conditions. They are commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Medications like Adderall, which contains a combination of amphetamine salts, and Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine, are used to help manage symptoms of these disorders by increasing attention, focus, and control over hyperactivity.

Additionally, some forms of amphetamines are used in the treatment of obesity, particularly in cases where other treatments have failed, though this is less common due to the risk of dependency and side effects.

The illegal production and distribution of amphetamines remain significant issues, with methamphetamine, in particular, being a major concern due to its highly addictive nature and severe health consequences. Law enforcement agencies worldwide continue to combat the illicit manufacture and trafficking of methamphetamine and other amphetamine-type stimulants.



### Differences Between Wartime Methamphetamine and Modern Crystal Meth

Crystal meth, or crystal methamphetamine, is a highly potent and addictive form of methamphetamine that differs significantly in form, purity, and production methods from the amphetamines used during World War II.

1. **Chemical Composition and Form**: Wartime methamphetamine, such as Pervitin, was typically produced in tablet form with a relatively lower purity compared to modern crystal meth. Crystal meth is usually found as a crystalline substance that is much purer, often exceeding 80-90% purity, which increases its potency and potential for addiction.

2. **Production Methods**: During World War II, methamphetamine production was relatively straightforward and industrialized, following pharmaceutical standards of the time. Pervitin, for example, was mass-produced by German pharmaceutical companies using well-regulated processes. Modern crystal meth is often produced in clandestine laboratories using easily accessible but hazardous chemicals, leading to higher purity and potency but also a greater likelihood of impurities and harmful byproducts.

3. **Effects and Potency**: Crystal meth is much more potent than the methamphetamine tablets used during World War II. The high from crystal meth is more intense and longer-lasting, leading to a greater potential for abuse and dependency. While both wartime methamphetamine and modern crystal meth can cause similar stimulant effects—such as increased wakefulness, energy, and decreased appetite—the higher potency and purity of crystal meth lead to more severe side effects.

4. **Legal Status**: Both wartime methamphetamine and modern crystal meth are highly regulated substances. After the war, methamphetamine became a controlled substance in most countries, and its non-medical use was prohibited. Crystal meth, due to its high abuse potential and severe health risks, is illegal worldwide, with significant penalties for its production, distribution, and possession.

### ADHD and Stimulant Medications

People with ADHD tend to react differently to stimulant medications like amphetamines and methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin). Here’s why:

1. **Mechanism of Action**: Individuals with ADHD often have lower levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with attention, motivation, and pleasure. Stimulants like amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate increase the availability of dopamine in the brain by blocking its reuptake and enhancing its release. This helps improve attention, focus, and impulse control in people with ADHD.

2. **Normalizing Effect**: For individuals with ADHD, stimulants have a paradoxical calming and focusing effect. Instead of causing hyperactivity and restlessness, these medications help stabilize their brain activity, leading to better concentration and reduced impulsivity. This is because the stimulants are helping to balance the neurotransmitter levels that are typically dysregulated in ADHD.

3. **Differential Reactions**: Most individuals with ADHD who take stimulants report significant improvements in their symptoms. They often find it easier to focus, complete tasks, and manage their behaviors. This therapeutic effect contrasts sharply with the reaction of individuals without ADHD, who may experience heightened alertness, euphoria, or agitation. While stimulants can cause side effects such as insomnia, decreased appetite, and increased heart rate, these tend to be more manageable in individuals with ADHD. The therapeutic benefits often outweigh the side effects for many patients. Non-ADHD individuals are more likely to experience severe side effects and potential misuse due to the stimulating and euphoric properties of these drugs.

4. **Clinical Use**: ADHD medications are prescribed in controlled dosages that are carefully titrated to achieve the best therapeutic effect with minimal side effects. This medical supervision ensures that the drug’s benefits are maximized while minimizing risks. For individuals with ADHD, stimulant medications can be part of a long-term management plan. They help maintain daily functioning and improve quality of life. Regular monitoring by healthcare professionals ensures that the medication continues to be effective and safe.

### Conclusion

The different reactions to stimulant medications between individuals with and without ADHD highlight the importance of understanding the underlying neurobiology of ADHD. For those with the disorder, these medications can provide significant benefits by addressing the specific neurotransmitter imbalances that contribute to their symptoms. In contrast, for individuals without ADHD, the same medications can pose significant risks due to their stimulant effects and potential for abuse.

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