Off-Label Use | The Unintended Side-Effects of Amphetamines
It’s no secret that many inventions don’t work out, like the “battery-powered battery charger” or the “umbrella tie.” Some inventions may not succeed as they were originally intended, but instead, are reimagined for other uses.
Drugs are no exception. Drugs are invented by researchers who are funded by multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies. Sometimes these drugs do not perform as they are expected to, and occasionally, a drug will produce unintended side-effects that garner a legendary “coming of age” tale in the medical industry.
Take Rogaine, for example. This famous hair growth cream was originally intended to be used as a blood pressure medication. However, many patients complained that it was causing them to experience increased hair growth all over their bodies, so the drug was repurposed as a hair loss treatment. Another example, Viagra, was created to treat hypertension, for which it was mostly unsuccessful. Now, Viagra is a popular drug that is used to effectively treat erectile disfunction. There are many examples of these unintended consequences in pharmaceutical history, but few drugs are as prolific as amphetamines.
From an over-diagnosed populous of children with ADHD, to undergrads and professionals seeking a competitive edge, the use of amphetamines is growing rapidly in the United States. Commonly referred to as “speed,” amphetamines are widely used and abused for medical and recreational purposes. Little known fact though, they were originally intended to help treat asthma.
A Brief History of Amphetamines
Gordon A. Alles is known as the father of amphetamines. Although he was not the first to synthesize amphetamines in a laboratory, he was the first to synthesize amphetamines with the intention of using it as a drug. His original goal was to invent a drug that could replace ephedrine, an active ingredient in asthma inhalers which was becoming increasingly scarce.
Alles’ invention was never quite effective in relieving asthma, but many fell in love with its stimulating side effects, which gave users an intense focus, alertness, and a sense of wellbeing. Soon, doctors were prescribing it as a treatment for Parkinson’s, narcolepsy and depression. During World War II, fighter pilots used it to stay awake during long nighttime raids. Today, more than fifteen million children and adults are prescribed Ritalin or Adderall as a treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder, a diagnosis that is arguably “too easy” to obtain.
To learn more about the history of amphetamines, its effects on the body, and its rampant abuse in the United States, check out Straight Talk MD’s podcast episode: “On Speed with Nicolas Rasmussen”.