Where's the freaking info about speed?

Dear Alice,

I am a recovering speed freak. I was all whacked out of my skull for too long. Literally too long, like seven or eight days at a time, and I don't see one freaking bit of info on what I see to be a major problem in the youth of today, and I would like it if you could put something in here about speed.

Thank you,



It sounds like it’s time to get up to speed on speed! Speed — also commonly referred to as bennies, black beauties, crank, ice, and uppers — is a type of drug called amphetamines. Amphetamines are Schedule II stimulants (a high potential for abuse despite having currently acceptable medical use) that speed the body’s processes up and may give a sense of euphoria and increased energy and focus. In fact, amphetamines are typically prescribed by health care providers as a treatment for narcolepsy (a sleeping disorder) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, if not taken as prescribed (such as using it as a “study drug” — more on that later!), or if taken illicitly, amphetamines may lead to side effects such as increased blood pressure, irritability, gastrointestinal problems, paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations, and even a risk of fatal overdose. For more information, the Alcohol & Other Drugs archives, which have lots of information on a whole variety of uppers and downers may be helpful. While these questions and answers may deal with drugs other than amphetamines and other stimulants, they address issues common to all drug use. To catch up on speed, read on! 

A bit of history may help provide context for the popularity of amphetamines and how they became so widespread. Although originally advertised as a way of fighting nasal congestion, by 1937, amphetamines started to be used legally (with a prescription) for the treatment of narcolepsy and ADHD, which are still used for today. In low doses, amphetamines temporarily increase alertness and reduce fatigue. When prescribed, amphetamines are typically taken orally in the form of tablets or capsules; however, less legal forms include powders or crystals to make them easier to inject, snort, or smoke. 

How do amphetamines work on a physiological level? The name “speed” is derived from the fact that amphetamines literally speed up the body’s processes. Speed increases heart and respiratory rates and can produce an irregular heartbeat, increase perspiration, and raise body temperature. Taking speed may result in feeling happier, more confident, more focused, and more energetic, but it may also result in negative psychological effects such as paranoia, anxiety, and panic. When prescribed, a health care provider can adjust the dosage to minimize these negative consequences. However, chronic use of amphetamines at higher-than-recommended doses may lead to hallucinations, delusions, and violent and self-destructive behavior. Overdosing on speed may result in convulsions, high fevers, coma, and possibly death due to heart failure, ruptured blood vessels in the brain, or hyperthermia. 

Like many other drugs, the method of ingestion may determine how quickly the speed hits in your body. You’re more likely to experience the effects of amphetamines immediately if you inject or smoke them, while snorting or swallowing typically takes about 30 minutes to feel the effects. Additionally, mixing amphetamines with other drugs could result in other, riskier side effects. For example, mixing amphetamines with “downers” such as alcohol or opioids may cause significant strain on your blood pressure and heart rate, potentially increasing the risk of heart problems and seizures. If you decide to take amphetamines, you may want to avoid mixing your uppers and downers to prevent more serious side effects.  

What comes up must come down, and coming down from the high of amphetamines may provide several side effects. Some of these may include symptoms such as muscle twitching, headaches, exhaustion, and mood swings in the two to four days following amphetamine use. Additionally, chronic users of amphetamines often experience withdrawal symptoms when going long periods without use or when trying to quit, such as cravings for the drug, increased appetite, mood disorders, and exhaustion. These withdrawal symptoms typically improve after a week without amphetamine use and typically completely resolve within a month. If you’re experiencing distress associated with amphetamine withdrawal, you may want to speak with your health care provider about your experience to receive additional support. 

You mention that you see speed to be a major problem in the youth of today. Perhaps you’re referring to the use of prescription stimulants as “study drugs.” There are several studies that cite high numbers of college students reporting using prescription stimulants to help them focus or stay up late to study, despite not being prescribed these drugs by a health care provider. Some folks may even use these drugs as an appetite suppressant to lose weight. When not used as prescribed, these “study drugs” may cause insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, hallucinations, and increased heart rate, and in extreme cases, it may lead to death for those with heart conditions. 

Hope this speed read provided you with more information! 

Last updated Jul 12, 2022
Originally published Nov 01, 1996

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